Versions of Microsoft Windows Servers

Version Chart / Overview

This is a brief chart of the versions of network servers based on the Microsoft Windows operating system that Microsoft has produced.

Version/Year Notes
Windows NT Advanced Server (1993) This was based on work on OS/2, a secure operating system Microsoft developed with IBM in the late 1980s. Microsoft positioned Windows NT to compete with Novell NetWare, a hugely popular network server for small offices running Windows desktop computers, by providing file and print sharing services. It was also intended to match the power and versatility of UNIX-based computers and run UNIX-based programs for serious scientific applications. Its interface looked like the popular Windows 3.1, which was current at the time. It was not marketed heavily or widely used commercially, because Microsoft considered it to be still in a kind of final testing stage.
Windows NT Server 3.5 (1994) An upgrade to the first version, with many of the early problems fixed, and additional features. At the time of its release, Microsoft was ready to push it as a valuable business system, along with their Back Office suite of products that included SQL Server (a database server) and Microsoft Mail (the precursor to Microsoft Exchange).
Windows NT Server 4.0 (1996) The next upgrade in the Windows NT line, which incorporated the popular new desktop interface of Windows 95. It also included a web server called IIS, along with the other Internet services available in previous versions. In the next few years, Microsoft released other editions, such as Enterprise Edition (supporting server clustering) and Terminal Services Edition (for hosting remote desktops).
Windows 2000 Server (2000) Major upgrade that extended the potential scalability of Windows by introducing the hierarchical network management and security system called Active Directory, which Windows networks use to this day. Released along with Windows 2000 Professional, the desktop/workstation version of the same core operating system. It also introduced greater ability to configure Windows workstations on the network from the server. Many of Microsoft's other server-based products, such as Microsoft Exchange 2000, would only run on Windows 2000 Server or later. Windows 2000 Server also offered additional editions apart from the base product, called Advanced Server and Datacenter Server, supporting different levels of hardware and capabilities.
Windows Server 2003 (2003) Added many new features, and performance gains, to keep up with advances in computer hardware over the years preceding its release. This version of Windows Server is equivalent to Windows XP, and the look and feel of its interface are similar. It's the first Windows server version that used a different name than its equivalent desktop version of Windows, to break away from a perception that it is merely a server edition of the operating system. This came with even more editions at various prices which were introduced over the succeeding years, such as Standard Edition, Home Server, Web Edition, Storage Server, Enterprise Edition, and Datacenter Edition. In 2005, Microsoft released Windows Server 2003 R2 (short for Release 2), which was not a free upgrade like Service Packs and other updates. R2 is primarily the same operating system, with all previous bug fixes included, and some new features.
Windows Server 2008 (2008) This is equivalent to Windows Vista in its underlying architecture, and includes the same new security functions introduced with Windows Vista, as well as a new architecture for managing and configuring Windows desktop computers on the network. It further improves on capabilities in supporting virtual servers and clustering that were available in previous versions. Most notably, this introduced Hyper-V, Microsoft's server virtualization technology, positioned to compete with VMware vSphere. New core installation mode for better performance and security; it has no graphical user interface. This also came with many editions, now including an inexpensive version called the Foundation edition for very small networks. There is also an R2 release for this (from 2009), which is the first version to leave 32-bit processors completely behind; it will only run on 64-bit systems. R2 is based on the underlying architecture of Windows 7, and supports some of the same enhancements to certain features that Windows 7 introduced, such as more flexible backup options and more efficient and secure networking.
Windows Server 2012 (2012) This version brought a tremendous number of enhancements to existing capabilities, such as failover clustering, managing virtual servers, and efficiency and security of communications and infrastructure services on the network. Microsoft promotes this as "cloud optimized", or the "Cloud OS" due to the many significant enhancements in its handling of virtualization. Redesigned user interface similar to Windows 8. The inexpensive Foundation and Essentials Editions are still there, while the features of Enterprise Edition have been merged into Standard and/or Datacenter Editions. Windows Server 2012 R2 (2013) introduced powerful configuration options to improve data storage performance and flexibility, mobile device support, and server configuration management.
Windows Server 2016 (2016) New capabilities, virtually all of them related to virtualization, include software-defined networking (such as VXLAN support), rolling cluster upgrades from Windows Server 2012 R2, storage replication, and Docker engine support (Windows Server and Hyper-V containers). The supported hardware capacity (RAM and processors) has been increased expontentially. The user interface matches Windows 10. The core installation mode has been even further improved on with the new Nano installation mode, which removes even more capabilities to make the footprint even smaller. Foundation edition has been dropped.
Windows Server, version 1709 (2017) Windows Server, version 1803 (2018)
These can be considered the first subscription editions of Windows Server. These are feature updates to Windows Server 2016, available only to customers who have a software subscription covering Windows Server (such as a Visual Studio subscription, or Volume License Software Assurance), or through the Azure Marketplace. It only installs in core mode (no GUI), and is intended for customers building a software-defined datacenter, hybrid cloud, or container-driven software development environment. Windows Server 2016 remains available for all other customers.

Click here to view the versions of Microsoft Windows for desktop computers.