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I always was understanding that windows the OS was a companion app of sort in regards to the server offerings and that, yes you could use it for home use, but it's main success was a support of server offerings that for the most part where robust and very usable in a corporate setting. People sort of accepted windows in there lives because MS-servers made it worth it.

So this idea, now seems debunked. I always thought running a MS-server without windows is like trying to run Java programs with MS-SQL or a C# app with a Oracle database, you can, but you probably don't want to.

Furthermore Linux server systems seemed to have a minority position (in corporate sphere) where I live which also somewhat enforced the idea that MS-Servers where decent.

So my question is how did windows evolve with the various MS server OS? Was certain version of windows aimed to interact more with servers than others, while others were dedicated to home use. It did strike me that windows has always seemed to have certain design quirks that made me question if it was really designed for home use.

  • 2
    can voters to close please explain there votes
    – Neil Meyer
    May 6, 2020 at 14:32
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    Again, Windows on PCs was around long before MS server OSs. Remember that NT3.51 was a straight port of DEC's VMS6.0 and MS had to glue the two systems together.
    – Chenmunka
    May 6, 2020 at 15:18
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    @Chenmunka not long before, Windows 1.0 was released in 1985 and LAN Manager in 1987 (the same year as Windows 2.0). There were Microsoft server OSs before NT ;-). Xenix on PCs pre-dates Windows, but I’m not sure it was used much as a server OS outside Microsoft. May 6, 2020 at 15:37
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    It might be worth mentioning Microsoft was a Programming Language company before evolving into an OS company. It was primarily the IBM/Kildall/CPM snafu that gave Microsoft the opportunity to produce an OS and the subsequent rise of MS-DOS on the desktop, which gave rise to early Windows on the desktop, which gave rise to an empire. In parallel to this evolution Microsoft also evolved it's server offerings, including Xenix and NT for Alpha and PPC - things evolve and rarely make a lot of sense in retrospect.
    – Geo...
    May 6, 2020 at 16:00
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    @Chenmunka Remember that NT3.51 was a straight port of DEC's VMS6.0 and MS had to glue the two systems together. This is far from true (I worked at DEC, and was familiar with both systems), It is apparent that NT has similarities to RSX11M and VMS, but that's because Cutler designed all three. More telling might be the similarities between some aspects of NT and the never-released DEC OS known as Mica, the subject of a lawsuit between DEC and MS.
    – dave
    May 7, 2020 at 2:52

3 Answers 3


Ignoring MS-Net, Microsoft has marketed server systems since 1987: first LAN Manager, based on OS/2, then in 1993 Windows NT 3.1 Advanced Server, and then the various Server editions of successive Windows NT and Windows 2000 releases, which gave way to Windows Server.

MS-DOS 3.1 and later, and all versions of Windows, have been able to integrate with these server systems (and others, such as Novell Netware). At the most basic level, LAN Manager client software provides access to the file and print sharing features, and these are usable from DOS and Windows (initially through DOS, later on through built-in support in Windows). As server features and client features expanded over time, the integration became tighter, with servers becoming domain controllers and “client” operating systems supporting ever stricter lockdowns (so that their use is centrally-controlled).

Many versions of Windows also support peer-to-peer networking, which was introduced in Windows for Workgroups. Microsoft also sold a Workgroups add-on for DOS, providing similar features on MS-DOS. (Other companies provided similar peer-to-peer networking tools.)

But all “client” operating systems, whether marketed for home, office, or workstation use, can be used without servers. Many of them can be configured to rely on a server, or even to only act as thin clients, but that’s not inherent in any specific version of a Windows operating system product. That is to say, there aren’t any “client-only” versions of Windows, at least out of the box.

Viewed in the other direction, there aren’t any technically home-only versions of Windows either; even MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 could be integrated into a Windows NT domain (using the LAN Manager client and the Client for Microsoft Networks). There are “Home” editions of Windows, which can’t join Windows domains as members, but they can still access many domain resources (including remote desktops and applications), and the core operating system is still the same as other editions of the same Windows version (Windows 10 Home v. Windows 10 Pro etc.).

In terms of technology bases, there is a distinction: MS-DOS and non-NT versions of Windows (Windows 1.0 to 3.11, 95, 98, and Me) were never used to build a Microsoft server operating system. OS/2 and Windows NT were and are used to build both client and server systems.

  • OK so there never where any specific home/serve windows because they basically did both from very early on?
    – Neil Meyer
    May 6, 2020 at 14:33
  • There were (and are) specific server versions of Windows (see my first paragraph), but not specific home versions of Windows. The non-NT Windows line was never used for server operating systems, so it can’t be said that Windows always could do both. May 6, 2020 at 14:40
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    There were specific editions of Windows. There WAS a "Windows Home" edition. But there was nothing fundamentally different about any of these beyond arbitrary constraints built in to the system (such as lack of utilities, hard coded resource limits, etc.) Under the hood, they were basically the same. The differences were solely marketing gimmicks. May 6, 2020 at 14:45
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    @Will ah yes, Windows XP Home and its successors... May 6, 2020 at 14:46

Background: Windows NT was the basis for all Microsoft Windows "Server" Operating Systems that had that name. Previous iterations of MS networking products were mostly add-on device drivers for simple file sharing. There was also the complete line of Windows Desktop OS's from Windows 1 through Windows Me that were marketed for both home and business use. The two lines merged over many years as seen in Windows NT 4.0 (Server and Workstation), Windows 2000 (Professional and various Server versions), and Windows XP, with XP being the point at which all the major NT core features were in the version marketed to consumers.

To understand this OS market Microsoft was seeking to dominate during this push to NT in the late-90s and early-2000s, you have to recognize what came before - which was primarily Novell NetWare. NetWare was introduced pretty early for PC's, around 1983, and was the dominate network-based server solution for office automation built around "cheap, commodity, PCs". By the early 1990s, it was pretty entrenched in businesses that had been early adopters of networking technology. This is the capability that MS would now build into their own OS offerings, such that everything needed to replace NetWare could be offered as part of a Windows-based networking solution.

The first big success came with the introduction of Windows NT 4.0. This was offered in officially named "Server" and "Workstation" versions, included all the niceties from the consumer Windows 95 GUI, and reinforced the mass migration of offices away from NetWare. Then, MS continued to improve upon its offerings with Windows 2000 and the various "Server" versions that would follow. So, I would call out NT 4.0 as the real turning point that would cement Windows server technology migrating into and replacing the old Desktop OS that fundamentally dated back to the mid-1980s and MS-DOS driver underpinnings. It's also the OS that cemented the role of Windows as "network operating system" for office automation environments at the scale for which IT professionals would have previously looked to purchase NetWare.

  • would you say it is fair to say windows almost always had some ability to interact with servers just for the first 12 years it was not a ms server they where interacting with?
    – Neil Meyer
    May 6, 2020 at 14:53
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    @NeilMeyer Early Windows could do what DOS could do, and DOS had network drivers. But "serious" office networking was done with the NetWare server paired with its DOS client. MS networking solutions were the early "underdog".
    – Brian H
    May 6, 2020 at 15:14

So my question is how did windows evolve with the various MS server OS?

Well, it depends what you mean by "an OS" :-)

I've been a Windows NT user since the first version (so-called 3.1); NT is of course the base for current versions of Windows. Somewhere in the early days, NT was released as "Windows NT Workstation" and "Windows NT Server". They were fundamentally the same operating system. The difference was that NT Server had more "enterprise application software" on it, different licensing terms, and different default tuning parameter settings. But as far as the kernel and the view of the system as seen by the programmer - no significant differences.

Early on, NT Workstation and NT Server were released simultaneously. Later in life, the two became separate - mainly (or so I believe) to ensure the Workstation release schedule was not delayed by the more complex interoperation testing required for the Server system.

So, from the point of view of an NT user: Windows is both a workstation operating system and a server operating system, and always has been. They evolved together by virtue of being the same thing.

Nowadays we don't say "NT" because NT is all the Windows there is.

Terminology note: something like MS SQL Server is an application which runs on Windows (NT) Server.

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