What is Windows Server? How does it differ from Windows?

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You may only have come across the consumer editions of Windows if you are a regular user of computers. Did you know that Microsoft also publishes a complete Windows Server line of its operating systems?

Let’s look at the differences between Windows Server, regular Windows and Windows Server. We will see what Windows Server contains, what it doesn’t, and why it is so different.

What is Windows Server?

Image Credit: Ana Mercedes Gauna/Wikimedia Commons

We’ll explain Windows Server in detail if you haven’t heard of it before. Windows Server is an operating system that Microsoft has created specifically for use on servers. Servers are powerful machines designed to work continuously and offer resources to other computers. Windows Server is used in business environments almost in all cases.

Since Windows Server 2003 was launched in April 2003, Microsoft has published Windows Server under the same name. Even before that, there were server versions of Windows. Windows NT 4.0, for general use, was available in both server and workstation flavors.

Windows Server is not something that normal users need to be concerned about in almost all cases. It won’t be sold in stores, or downloaded from Microsoft accidentally. It’s still worth learning about, just to be aware.

Windows Server vs. Windows Server vs. Regular Windows

You might not be able to tell the difference between Windows Server or normal Windows versions by looking at them closely. Everything about the desktop, including the taskbar and desktop icons, is the same.

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It turns out that every Windows Server release corresponds with a consumer version. Windows Server 2003 is, for example, the server version Windows XP. Windows Server 2003, for instance, is the server version of Windows XP. Windows Server 2016 is based upon Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Windows Server 2019 is based off Windows 10 version 1809.

Windows Server and Windows share the same code base so you can use many of the same functions. Windows Server allows you to download and install browsers and photo editors. Many Windows basics, such as Notepad, are also included in Windows Server.

Windows Server and Windows Pro/Home are more different than they seem. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Windows Server includes Enterprise Management Software

Windows Server is designed for businesses and includes a lot of enterprise software. These tools allow a server to perform a number of roles.

  • Active Directory: Active Directory allows a server to act as a domain control. Instead of users logging in to a local computer for authentication, the domain controller manages all user accounts. For more information, see our explanation about Windows domains.
  • DHCP Dynamic Hosting Configuration Protocol () is a protocol which allows a server to automatically assign IP addresses for all devices in the network. This is probably handled by your router at home. In a business setting, however, IT staff can benefit from the more advanced DHCP functionality of Windows Server.
  • File and storage: Another common use is to have a file server in your company. This allows you to store important data in one place and control who has access to which files.
  • Print Services It is a waste of time and effort for IT staff to set up each printer for every new computer. A print server can be used to map printers to computers, and to reduce duplication of work.
  • Windows Update Service: Many businesses don’t want all Windows Updates to be delivered immediately. You can set up a server to act as a Windows Update Controller and route all updates to workstations through it.

These are just a few of many server roles Windows Server can support. A company may have multiple servers and need to split the roles between them.

These capabilities are not available in standard Windows versions. Although you can use third-party software to duplicate some of these capabilities, it will not be as robust.

Windows Server has fewer hardware limitations

Most people don’t care about how much RAM their computer can hold. Windows 10 Pro 64-bit allows you to add up to 2TB of RAM. The majority of users have less than 32GB RAM, so installing 1TB RAM is not possible.

Windows Server can support up to 24TB RAM. You can also use 64 CPU sockets. This is more than what Windows 10 Pro supports.

Although it may sound absurd, there are valid reasons for high hardware caps. Servers can provide vital functionality to hundreds of employees in a company, so they often need to be very powerful.

A server that hosts many virtual machines requires a lot of RAM to ensure they all run smoothly. Windows Server doesn’t have to run on physical hardware. Many businesses buy a few physical servers and then use Windows Server to run multiple virtual machines on them. This allows them to perform different functions such as the ones discussed above.

Windows Server doesn’t offer extra features

Windows Server, as you would expect, retains many of the power user features such as Command Prompt and other administrative instruments. The Server editions of Windows however, lack many of the quality-of life features that Windows 10 offers.

In Windows Server 2016 or 2019, for example, you won’t find Cortana, Microsoft Store, or other new Windows 10 features. You can’t bundle apps like Your Phone and you must download Microsoft Edge separately on Windows Server 2019.

Windows Server OSes don’t allow you to log in with your Microsoft account. These tools are not available to consumers because they are intended for business use.

Some apps also check to make sure you are using Windows Server before installing them. Sometimes, an app may not work with a server version.

Windows Server is also more secure by default. Although it still uses Internet Explorer for its default browser, the security settings are more restrictive than normal. This is understandable, since a server being compromised would be far more devastating than a single workstation.

Prices for Windows Servers vary

Windows Server is not cheap, as you might expect for a business-oriented product. Windows Server is more expensive than the consumer version and can be purchased in different flavors, depending on your requirements.

Microsoft’s Windows Server 2019 pricing webpage provides an estimate of the cost to purchase the server OS. You will need to purchase CALs (Client Access Licenses), depending on how many people access the server.

Windows Server was traditionally installed by businesses on an onsite server. This has greater hardware capabilities than the workstations mentioned above. You also have the option to run Windows Server as a cloud service such as Microsoft Azure.

This lets you offload the responsibility of maintaining a physical server to a provider like Microsoft. This allows companies to spread out the cost of upgrading over a subscription rather than paying one lump sum for a new server. The specific needs of each organization will determine which option is best.

Now you understand Windows Server

Windows Server and regular Windows share a common code base and look alike, but they are for completely different purposes.

Windows 10 consumer editions are optimized for maximum user-friendliness and do not include software designed for enterprise use. Windows Server, on the other hand, isn’t interested in looking nice. Its purpose is not to look pretty.

These are not the only Windows versions. Microsoft Windows 10 Enterprise, for example, offers more functionality than Windows 10 Pro.

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