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Microsoft Deliberately Limiting NT Workstation 4.0 as a Web Server

This page last updated September 17, 1996
Andrew Schulman
Senior Editor, O'Reilly & Associates

Exactly what limit has Microsoft placed on the use of NT Workstation (NTW) as a web server? At this point, the answer is totally confusing.

The End-User License Agreement (EULA) for NTW 4.0 states:

"you may permit a maximum of ten (10) computers to connect to the Workstation Computer to access and use services of the software product, such as file and print and peer Web services. The ten-connection maximum includes any indirect connections made through software or hardware that pools or aggregates connections." [emphasis added]
The explicit inclusion of "peer Web services" seems at first to refer to Microsoft's own "Peer Web Services" (PWS), a web server that comes bundled with NTW. (Incidentally, it turns out that PWS is identical to the Internet-Information-Server [IIS] that comes with NT Server [NTS]: the identical files use registry settings to decide whether to come up as PWS or IIS.)

So it would seem from this that, if you're using NTW 4.0 to run a non-Microsoft web server, such as WebSite from O'Reilly, or one of Netscape's line of web servers for NT, you're fine.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has made it clear that it interprets "and peer Web services" to mean any web serving on NTW. For example, Microsoft's lawyers have sent email to Netscape, complaining about a price comparison chart at Netscape's web site. According to Microsoft's letter (July 30):

The price comparison is unfair and deceptive because the cost on the Netscape side of the ledger erroneously assumes the user can run the Netscape Web server software on Windows NT Workstation and make unlimited connections to a Web site without violating the Windows NT Workstation license agreement and without additional charge. That is not the case. The end user license agreement for Windows NT Workstation only permits up to ten connections. If the user wishes to utilize more than the ten connections, the user must license Windows NT Server. Windows NT Server is designed and optimized to provide maximum performance to support server services.
So Microsoft views the NTW 4.0 EULA as a prohibition on ten web-server connections. And Microsoft had during the NTW 4.0 beta attempted to physically prohibit more than ten connections, from any web server (indeed, from almost any program that uses TCP/IP). Microsoft backed off from this physical prohibition. But it maintains the limitation in the NTW 4.0 EULA. This is spelled out in a Microsoft document, "Connection Limits in Windows NT Workstation 4.0" (August 16).

In other words, if you want to run a serious web server on NT 4.0, you must get NT Server, which costs about $800 more than NTW. Given the actual minimal technical differences between NTS and NTW, and given in particular the irrelevance of these differences to those running web servers, we regard this price difference as little more than a web tax. Yet, Microsoft's position is actually not so clear. Look at the company's KnowledgeBase article, "Maximum Number of Inbound Connections in Windows NT 3.5x" (ID Q122920, revised August 28, 1996). Despite only mentioning NT 3.5x in the title, the article starts off:

"The information in this article applies to:
- Microsoft Windows NT Workstation version 3.5 and 3.51
- Microsoft Windows NT Workstation version 4.0

Ten is the maximum number of users that can simultaneously connect to Windows NT Workstation 3.5, 3.51 and 4.0 over the network."

The article goes on to say that this connection limit applies to File Server connections, Print Server connections, Named Pipe connections, and certain types of Mailslot messages.

Not only is there no mention of "peer Web services," but if you read down, you find this nice, encouraging paragraph:

"Essentially, the limit is the number of simultaneous user sessions the server allows. However, this limit does not affect the number of simultaneous null sessions that are used by many services and some of the administrative tools. In addition, the limit does not apply to anything that does not use the server and runs directly over the transport, such as Windows Sockets." [emphasis added]
Sounds good, right? Web servers run on top of WinSock, which is the Windows version of Berkeley sockets. It makes sense that MS wouldn't include use of these within its NTW limits, especially since Microsoft didn't invent, and doesn't own, sockets, or even WinSock.

Unfortunately, it's not so simple. This Q122920 document has been around for quite a while (mid-1995), with exactly the same "...the limit does not apply to ... WinSock" exemption. Given the Microsoft lawyer's threatening letter to Netscape, this exemption apparently did not apply to Netscape, nor to anyone else wanting to run a web server on NTW 4.0. And the EULA language still stands.

So, at this point it's hard to know what Microsoft's intentions are. Perhaps you can get some guidance from ntbug@microsoft.com.


NT Workstation 4.0 Limit on IP Connections. A letter from Tim O'Reilly about a serious reduction in functionality that Microsoft plans for NT Workstation 4.0.

Microsoft has backed down:

Hmm, they really haven't backed down:
Netscape jumps into the fray:
Microsoft responds, claiming that "The crux of this issue is that NT Workstation and NT Server are two very different products intended for two very different functions": So what exactly are the differences between NT Server and NT Workstation? NT Server comes with a lot more bundled apps, but I mean what are the differences between the OSes themselves? Mark Russinovich has found the answer to this question, and the answer is quite interesting: see Differences Between NT Server and Workstation are Minimal: Registry Settings Used to Force Use of Microsoft Web Server. Here are some other discussions of this topic: Further Microsoft response to Netscape:
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