On the surface, Windows Server 2012 R2 and its derivatives look similar to Windows 8. The Start menu is missing, but you still have desktop icons and a Recycle Bin. Moreover, this operating system can run all of your Windows applications.
The system has a Dashboard feature that guides users through configuration, settings, most used options, users and user groups.
You also get access to Microsoft's Pinpoint marketplace. Think of this as the Microsoft Store for Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. You can navigate to Pinpoint through this link (opens in new tab). A few applications are found here, and you can rate and review the software. It's a nice start, but the selection is limited compared to the number of add-ons Thcus makes available for its Thecus OS, based on Linux.
Windows Server offers an easy backup feature that works seamlessly with other Windows-based PCs on your network.
Server 2012 R2 gives you access to the NAS from remote locations and uses DLNA to share media. BranchCache is a nice feature that syncs files and folders from the NAS to other systems.
Moving away from Dashboard, the Server Manager lets you adjust other settings. This is also where you dive into Storage Spaces.
Windows has built-in roles and features as well. Some are easy to set up and others are more complicated. If you've never built an Active Directory before, then you'll probably want to read up on it first. Other options, like configuring the system to act as a DHCP server, are much easier. Fortunately, Microsoft offers a number of extensive walk-through articles to get you started. And if you don't want to mess with tracking down an official how-to, there is always a video on YouTube showing the easiest way to perform an action.
Storage Spaces let you build pools of storage, arrays and even SSD cache accelerators. RAID 0, 5, 6, 10 and JBOD are all options, though given the number of drive bays on the W5000, we recommend RAID 5 as a single volume.
iSCSI works flawlessly as both a target and an initiator. You can share storage with other PCs or even import additional space from other servers.
As your WSS knowledge advances, you'll be able to make configuration changes using PowerShell, the modern equivalent of a command-line interface.
For the rest of us, there are always apps, scripts and add-ons that resolve Windows' shortcomings. Sadly, we haven't found an application that fixes the low write speeds you are about to read about, though.