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Running Windows Server at home

By Serdar Yegulalp
July 6, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Ask most anyone who runs Windows at home what edition of the operating system he or she is using, and odds are you'll hear a fairly predictable roster of responses: Windows XP Home, XP Professional, Vista's various incarnations, maybe even Windows 2000 Workstation.

But what about a server edition of Windows? Who needs a server-level operating system at home, and why?

A server in a home network isn't as exotic as it sounds. In fact, you probably have at least one Windows machine in your home network right now that's acting as a server in some capacity. Most of the functions performed by such a machine should be pretty familiar: sharing a printer or a network connection, sharing files and folders, or providing space for backup operations. What makes regular desktop Windows limited as far as such things go is a set of artificial constraints imposed by Microsoft about how much functionality they can offer. These constraints, arbitrary as they may be, don't always prevent you from getting things done in a home environment -- but they're worth enumerating in detail and understanding.

Windows Server: Fewer limits, but more money

One of the most commonly cited reasons for using Server at home is its support for more than 10 simultaneous NetBIOS connections. NetBIOS connections are used to create file and printer shares in Windows, and desktop versions of Windows -- XP Home and Pro, and Windows 2000 Workstation -- have specific limits about how many inbound NetBIOS connections can be established. A Windows XP Professional machine can host up to 10 inbound connections, as does Windows 2000 Workstation; Windows XP Home can host only five.

Note that these connections are enumerated on a per-computer basis: If you have one computer connecting to another computer that has a file share and a shared printer, the file share and the shared printer are all counted as one connection. (On a personal note, I did in fact run a Web server out of my house via a dial-up link -- almost a decade ago -- using Windows NT as the server. It was never more than an experimental thing, though, and as soon as I could buy my own Web site hosting with a decent amount of disk space, I did.)

If you habitually have more than 10 computers in the same household (LAN party, anyone?), then one instance of Server may be useful. The vast majority of the time, you can get away with an XP Pro/Vista setup -- especially since there's a quirk to the way NetBIOS connections are established.

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