Server 2008: The Windows Workstation we always wanted

Server 2008: The Windows Workstation we always wanted

Summary: Guest blogger Jason Perlow makes a case for Microsoft releasing Windows Server 2008 as a workstation SKU. Perlow says that Server 2008 is so solid that it shouldn’t be stuck in the datacenter. Would you buy a Windows Server 2008 Workstation product if one existed?


As discontent over Windows Vista (with or without Service Pack 1) continues to swirl, Microsoft is gearing up to launch on February 27 the "other" Windows: Windows Server 2008. Even though it is built from the same core as Vista, Windows Server is different from Vista in a number of ways, from its role-based configuration options, to its built-in hypervisor.

Guest blogger Jason Perlow (of asbestos-underwear fame) has been an advocate for Microsoft making Windows Server 2008 available as in workstation/desktop form. Like the old Windows NT and Windows 2000 Workstation products, a Windows Server 2008 Workstation would be a form factor for power users who don't need all the Vista desktop eye candy, but care more about manageability and performance.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to play with release candidate and the RTM versions of Windows 2008 Server, albeit primarily with the role of evaluating its Hyper-V virtualization capabilities. Over the course of that evaluation, I’ve become increasingly impressed with the polish, performance and manageability of the Server 2008 product, and now have come to the conclusion that this in fact, the best Windows that Microsoft has released since, well, ever.

I’ve said in the past that I believed Windows Vista was going to find difficulty being adopted in many corporations. This is due to a number of reasons, largely the new interface, compatibility issues, increased overhead with all the newer bells and whistles and accompanying higher hardware requirements. While a Vista Business version of the OS exists with lower requirements, it still has the stigma of being associated with a product that has had a less than stellar initial adoption rate.

I’ve suggested to a number of folks at Microsoft that perhaps it might be a good idea if they took the core of Windows 2008 Server and re-marketed it as Windows 2008 Workstation, simply because it seems that a large number of companies are much more likely to adopt Server before it adopts Vista, and it simplifies things from a management and administration perspective if the Server and Workstation OSes are closely aligned with each other. This has been the traditional product marketing model in which Windows NT and Windows 2000 operated in, and only changed in the last generation with Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server.

I’m certainly not alone in this idea. Bloggers -- including some working for Microsoft -- have already posted tip sheets on how to transform Server 2008 into a Workstation operating system (OS). And a number of Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSEs) and Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, as well as a number of Microsoft employees with whom I correspond, agree that Server 2008 is much more appealing to the techie, developer and corporate power user than Vista is.

One could argue that the core of Server 2008 and Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 1 Business are absolutely identical, and the same performance benefits and tools that Server has will also be available on Vista shortly. Why would Microsoft want to release yet another derivative? Wouldn’t that be tacitly admitting that Windows Vista was a marketing failure? In a word, no.

I believe Microsoft made a mistake in pursuing the “One brand fits all” with Windows Vista. Clearly, they came up with a brand derivative that tried to address every possible type of customer, be it home user, the unwashed masses, multimedia power user, or corporate user, simply by creating a single install media, a common code base, and differentiating between installed features by using separate licensing schemes. While I think that the technical reasons for doing this were valid – the same core efforts to develop Vista were also used to develop Server 2008, and it simplified their support model –- one that has yielded immediate benefits by keeping the patch levels of Vista SP1 and Server 2008 RTM in sync -- I think that a one-brand-fits-all strategy for the desktop operating system is unrealistic.

Look at the auto industry. General Motors develops core platforms that are used in several of its brands – Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac. GM markets the same exact truck, the Chevy Blazer, also as the GMC Envoy, and until recently, also as the Oldsmobile Bravada. It markets a beefed up, luxury version of the Chevy Tahoe and Chevy Avalanche as the Cadillac Escalade and the GMC Yukon Denali, and it does the same thing with several other brands.

This isn’t unique to GM. Ford also has traditionally done the same thing with its Mercury and Lincoln brands. It’s the same technology platform, the cars and trucks share a lot of the same parts, and in some cases the emblem is the only significant thing that changes. But they maintain the different flavors for different markets and different discerning customers.

You could argue that it would cost Microsoft money to release Workstation 2008. With previous Windows releases, I'd agree that this would be a valid counterargument. However, in this case, Microsoft has already done all the work.

Microsoft has designed Server 2008 to have role-based componentized installation capabilities, one that could be easily automated with Microsoft’s existing scripted installation tools to omit all the Server-specific pieces and to match the previous functionality of Windows 2000 Workstation and Windows XP Professional. In fact, I’ll put money on it that some resourceful MCSE or corporate engineer has already done it or figured out how to do it, and many developers and IT pros will be buying up copies of MSDN basic just to get access to Server 2008 cheaply so they can run it on their workstations and laptops.

To legitimize this, all Microsoft has to do is update Server 2008’s install media with a new option and componentized install profile – “Workstation”, some new splash screen artwork, and the licensing price – the same that Vista Business is currently sold at – and they are ready to go.

I know I’m not alone in thinking that Server 2008 shouldn’t be stuck in the datacenter. What do you think? Would you buy a Windows Server 2008 Workstation product if one existed?

Jason Perlow is a freelance writer and systems integration professional. He can be reached at jperlow at gmail dot com.

Topics: Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Servers, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • I have a feeling

    that MS would not be so willing to do this at Vista Business' licensing price. They would try to market it at a more premium price if it is to be marketed as a premium product, even if it does have fewer lines of code in it.

    Other than that, if the demand is there I don't see MS balking at the idea. At least not today's Microsoft. Catering to customer demands might be construed as a good publicity stunt, and they know they need more of those.
    Michael Kelly
    • This idea makes too much sense and Microsoft has demonstrated a lack of...

      ...common sense. Maybe they'll get the picture eventually but I doubt it.
      • They HAVE to get the picture

        It's exactly that kind of lack of common sense on IBM's part that opened the door for MS to become the power they became in the first place. Actually I think that door's been open for a while now, but nobody else has been smart enough (or had a good enough product) to walk through it.
        Michael Kelly
        • Inertia now

          Problem is inertia.

          The best option for the desktop and some servers is OS X. Every INDEPENDENT test has it as the lowest TCO out there. Yet the inertia (and FUD) is in the Windows camp. It's a shame really as the non Microsoft options are much better for the most part.
          • Where are these tests? I keep hearing about them but have yet...

   actually see one. As a user of both I find neither to be more/less productive than the other. They're so much more alike than different. As from implementation details they both essentially function the same way.
          • A couple



          • Is that you Snit?


            The first is a single guy.
            The second is a single guy (biased IMO as Apple has contracted with his company)
            The third...well, the link just brings up a page of stuff and I'm not going to waste time digging through it.

            Sorry, none of this qualifies as objective TCO studies. How about something from a credible source?
          • So is inertia the reason

            why OS X will only run on Apple hardware? That's why I say some companies aren't smart enough. And Linux isn't good enough for the mass market, because not all people can handle Linux's idiosyncrasies and not all people have the programs they need.
            Michael Kelly
          • I just love it when folks

            use absolutes like "every" and "all". Simply ridiculous. Also, be careful about the "independant" label. I rarely find a truly "independant" review. The problem with folks like this is that they do not realize that data can be used to prove just about any anything you want. There are so many variables just with the TCO let alone with usability, stability and things like that. So one company's TCO might be lower with Windows than for Linux or vice versa and the etc. etc. etc.
    • Buyers of Vista Business ...

      ... are not generally corporate customers who need Windows Server 2008. They are small businesses without the need for Windows Server 2008. Corporate entities will be buying Vista Enterprise for desktops -- at steep discounts. Windows Server 2008 will be installed in their machine rooms.
      M Wagner
      • Not many EA customers

        The number of Enterprise Assurance customers that would qualify for Vista Enterprise is a very short list. And from those I work with, none of them are particularly thrilled with the prospect of going to Vista. If anything, a lot of them are looking at the possibilities of going thin-client and using desktop virtualization using Server 2008 or something like Citrix. The TCO on fat desktops are so high for these companies that centralization is now becoming their prime motivator for lowering cost.
        • -Is this 200n or 197n...

        • Corporate IT departments are sticking with XP

          ...for the same reasons that they stuck with Windows NT4, 2000 (or even Win95 and Win98) until Windows XP was released with Service Pack 2. Corporate systems are typically tested with all the custom software that they use, and IT doesn't upgrade the OS (any OS--that's Mac, Linux, and Unix too) until the apps and OSes play well together. It's not about the whiz bang stuff and flashy UIs (Microsoft and Apple take note), it's about system and software reliability and stability.
      • Machine rooms?

        what is this the 60s?
  • Windows Vista Business and Windows 2008 Workstation

    Perhaps a comparison/contrast between Windows Vista Business and Windows 2008 Workstation is needed so that IT Technicians and system administrators can choose which one is right for them.

    Otherwise, I can't see why Microsoft will release Windows 2008 Workstation, not to mention that Windows Vista Business can serve as a workstation and the GUI of Windows Vista Business can be stripped down to the looks of Windows 2000 as needed. This might confuse business customers who are thinking about buying a business version of Windows Vista for workstations.
    Grayson Peddie
    • Ya right the 50 million versions of vista don't confuse people now...
      • hmm

        [i]Ya the 50 million versions of vista don't confuse people now...[/i]

        hmm.. 1) Vista Home Basic
        2) Vista Home Premium
        3) Vista Business
        4) Vista Ultimate
        5) Vista Enterprise

        Not that that isn't a lot of versions, but I think you over estimated by about 49,999,995. Must be the "new math" I keep hearing about.
        • You forgot Starter, 64-bit, and "N" versions...

          So if you live in an EU country:

          1. Vista Starter Edition
          2. Vista Home Basic
          3. Vista Home Basic N
          4. Vista Home Premium
          5. Vista Home Premium 64-bit
          6. Vista Business
          7. Vista Business N
          8. Vista Business 64-bit
          9. Vista Business 64-bit N
          10. Vista Ultimate
          11. Vista Ultimate 64-bit
          12. Vista Enterprise
          13. Vista Enterprise 64-bit

          Well short of the 50 million, but still 13 separate products. I can see how it can be

          There's only one version of OS X, and it's both 32- & 64-bit with no need for
          "special" 64-bit anything to use it.
          • Forgot 64-bit version for Home Basic, that'd be 15 versions. [nt]

          • Thank the EU ...

            ... for forcing Microsoft to ship an "N" version (sans MediaPlayer) which has sold ... practically no copies worldwide.

            One thing for all you Mac fans out there ... y'know your OS ... the one built on the highly respectable FreeBSD ... which touts itself as 64-bit? Well, I hate to tell you this, but while some of the Mac OS componentry (user mode services & stuff) runs in 64-bit mode, as can apps that have been recompiled to run x64, the kernel is still 32-bit! This is evidenced by all Mac drivers being 32-bit only ... and 32-bit drivers cannot run in a 64-bit OS.

            Windows x64, on the other hand, is a true 64-bit kernel & 64-bit OS running 64-bit services (daemons) and (mostly) 64-bit apps.