Microsoft offers two main categories of Windows operating systems: operating systems designed for individual computers, and those intended for servers. Within the two categories, various different versions of Windows are available, each aimed at different types of users.
Server Operating Systems
Microsoft's Windows Server product range offers operating systems for all kinds of network servers, ranging from those supporting small offices to servers forming part of a sophisticated enterprise network infrastructure.
As of March 2011, the latest versions of Microsoft's server operating systems on offer are the Windows Server 2008 family, and the Small Business Server 2011 range, which integrates Windows Server 2008 functionality with other server technologies in a package aimed at small companies.
Computer Operating Systems
Microsoft's Windows computer operating systems are widely used on desktop PCs and laptops. Microsoft periodically releases a new generation of the Windows computer operating system, the most recent of which, as of the date of publication, is Windows 7.
Windows 7, as with earlier versions of the operating system such as XP and Vista, is available in variants designed for home computers and business computers. An important difference between home and business editions is the ability to join computers to Windows domain networks.
Microsoft provides detailed information online to help you compare the exact features available within each of the editions of Windows, for both computers and servers. Use this information to asses each version against your personal requirements and ascertain whether you need one of the more expensive "Ultimate" or "Enterprise" versions or if a less expensive "Starter" or "Foundation Edition" product is sufficient.
A range of purchase options exists for Windows operating systems. New computers and servers are often sold with an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) copy of Windows pre-installed and included in the purchase price. Windows operating systems are also sold as boxed products by retailers and as part of a Microsoft licensing agreement--the purchase method usually chosen by businesses buying multiple copies of Windows.
Complex licensing rules and restrictions determine exactly how Windows can be used when it is purchased via each method. For example, OEM software can be used only on the computer it was purchased with, and not transferred to new hardware. Check with your reseller or with Microsoft to establish the licensing terms.
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