'Windows' tag logo

Which Windows edition should I choose?

Windows editions follow a naming convention which may not be the clearest and, to make things worse, change with Windows versions and cover both technical and non-technical differences (meaning that two different editions may actually be the same with just a different EULA).

Here is a short post on main Windows editions with a focus on the version you may prefer for your lab.

Windows client editions

  • Windows Home or Core edition is the low-budget, consumer grade version of Windows. It is enough for home uses, but is missing features necessary for corporate environments such as the ability to join an Active Directory domain.

  • Windows Professional or Business edition adds more functionalities, such as the ability to join an Active Directory domain and disk encryption (limited to the Enterprise edition and above until Windows 7 included).

  • Windows Enterprise, Education and Ultimate editions are the most complete editions. There is little to no technical difference between them, the main difference being the distribution channels and the licensing.

  • Other editions are also available for mobile and low-power devices, they are usually even more limited than the Home edition.

Only the first two and the Ultimate (which existed only for Windows 7) are available as retail version, the others either need a specific contract with Microsoft or are provided pre-installed by devices manufacturers.

Wikipedia has good charts allowing to compare the feature available in each editions:

The evaluation versions of the Enterprise edition of recent Windows systems are freely downloadable from Microsoft website.

Windows server editions

  • Windows Server Essentials (formerly Windows Small Business Server) is a low-budget version of Windows Server. Several functionalities are locked and a specific dashboard is available to make management easier1. See here for more information. With older Windows version a Windows Server Foundations existed which was even more limited than Windows Server Essentials.

  • Windows Server Datacenter edition is focused on large infrastructures and focuses on performances. This includes changes in the systems, in the functionalities (some may be reduced) and in the prerequisites (the linked post mentions a minimum of eight CPUs). See here for more information.

  • With modern Windows versions, Windows Server Standard edition, or simply Windows Server is what you usually want when you simply want to test Windows Server features.

  • Up to Windows 2008 included, a Windows Server Enterprise was also available. This one was the complete version and Windows Server standard was an intermediary between Windows Server Small Business and this one. From Windows 2012 on Windows Server Enterprise has been merged into Windows Server Standard. See here for more information.

Recent versions of Windows server can be installed either with or without the GUI (also called Desktop Experience). On the same idea, Windows 2008 Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter also proposed a minimal installation mode as Server Core to reduce your vulnerability footprint (more information)

As with Windows client systems, evaluation versions of the Standard edition and above of recent release are freely downloadable from Microsoft website.

  1. The dashboard can also be enabled in Windows Server Standard and Datacenter edition by enabling the Windows Server Essentials Experience server role. 

Popular tags see all