Server 2008: The Windows Workstation we always wanted

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.