Microsoft Windows Server comes in various versions (e.g., 2008, 2008 R2, 2012, and 2012 R2) and editions (e.g., Foundation, Essentials, Standard, and Datacenter). With all of these names, it may be difficult to understand the differences and know which flavor you should use. First, don’t confuse the version with the edition. The version specifies various releases of the software, whereas the editions specify different variants that mainly concern degrees of privilege in the licensing. Since the year 2000, Windows Server versions have been named by a year and sometimes the designation “R2” for “release 2,” which refers to a later version. For example, in 2013, instead of releasing version “2013,” Microsoft called the new version “Windows Server 2012 R2.”
While it’s typically best to start with the most recent version to achieve the longest support timeframe, choosing among editions involves recognizing your current and future licensing needs as well budgetary considerations. Whereas other editions give you the license to run two virtual machines on a server, Datacenter allows you to run an unlimited number of virtual machines. On the other end, Windows Server Essentials is catered to small businesses and involves some additional licensing restrictions (e.g., regarding the number of users). It may be a good choice for companies with fewer than 25 employees and a lack of IT resources, particularly because it comes with a dashboard to help facilitate administration.
One potential area of confusion is the difference between Foundation and Essentials. Foundation comes pre-installed with some servers, whereas one can buy Essentials separately. While both are cheaper than the Standard edition, Foundation’s licensing is even more restrictive. For example, Essentials allows 25 users, whereas Foundation allows only 15. Another difference is that the dashboard for easy administration comes with Essentials only.