PC parts are so cheap, you could easily spend more on 10-user license for Windows Server than on the hardware on which it's installed. Steve Ballmer mentioned the disparity, noting the upcoming Foundation Edition server designed as a "low-cost, low-price, low-functionality Windows Server SKU." The skeleton server will be released in the next month or two, although Microsoft hasn't yet announced further details.
I loath the multiple editions of Windows, and the server space is just as confusing, especially for smaller companies that don't have the luxury of a full IT staff to sort it all out. Customers pick between Small Business Server Standard, Small Business Server Premium, Essential Business Server in its own Premium and Standard versions, and numerous other versions of Windows Server. Some think these price points and different features are helpful, but what small-biz managers really just need is a reasonably priced server OS that scales to my needs.
Given Microsoft's record of releasing a bewildering multitude of versions of the same thing (Exhibit B: Office), I fear that Foundation Server will be yet another cash-in for Microsoft that leaves businesses in the lurch on important features. But I'm holding out a little hope that it can turn old PC hardware into an inexpensive network server.
As-is, if you have an old or underpowered PC that's worthless as a work system, it won't have enough juice to handle most server operating systems, either. You'd have to install Linux to make it into an effective server. That process works for do-it-yourselfers, but it's still little consolation to business owners who would rather spend money than time, and who would prefer the familiarity of Windows in their back office. And even with instructions, the installation and configuration process is still overwhelming for many small business do-it-yourselfers.
I can only hope that Foundation Server will fill this void in the marketplace. For my part, I'd want to install it as an alternative to Ubuntu Server in my office. And in this case I wouldn't need all of the features of the dozen other Microsoft Server products. For a low price--say $150--I just want good file management, backup, print serving, and other basic features. Will Foundation deliver, or will this server turn out to be as cheap as it is inexpensive? I'll be following this story with interest.
Zack Stern is a San Francisco-based writer and editor who wishes he didn't feel like he was haggling for a car when buying software for his business.