Microsoft has released Windows Server Essentials to manufacturing, offering both consumers and small businesses a low-cost server option for backup. The company claims that the preview version of Windows Server Essentials has been downloaded more than 23,000 times. That’s good, right? That download total, according to the company, is “far surpassing pre-release downloads of past versions,” although it’s not quite clear what’s meant by “previous versions.” Windows Server 2008 R2 Foundation? Windows Small Business Server Essentials and Windows Essential Business Server, which have been both discontinued? Damning with faint praise, possibly. Windows Server Essentials will be generally available on Nov. 1, filling in for Windows Small Business Server Essentials (and Standard) 2011, Windows Home Server 2011, and Windows Storage Server Essentials 2008 R2, all of which failed to make the cut. It will be the only Windows Server product sold at retail; Foundation, Standard and Datacenter editions are available to OEMs. (Essentials is now a “core edition” of Windows Server 2012, with a name change that Microsoft says reflects “simplified messaging.”) “Windows Server 2012 Essentials is a significant milestone in our efforts to help cloud-enable small businesses and home offices,” Sinead O'Donovan, Director of Program Management on the Windows Server Essentials team, wrote in a corporate blog post. ”It is designed to help you protect business data, to allow highly secure access to the information you need from virtually anywhere by using almost any device, and to offer the flexibility to choose which applications and services you want to run on-premises and in the cloud." Microsoft hasn’t changed Essentials’ licensing program: it’s for either one or two processor servers, up to 25 users; the user limit stands at 15 for Foundation. Users can run a virtual machine or a physical server, not both. And the price is fixed: $425 per server (compared to $882 per processor for the Standard version) plus a Client Access License (CAL). Essentials can also be integrated with Office 365 or other hosted storage, as well as Storage Spaces, which replaces the Drive Extender in the Windows Home Storage environment. Storage Spaces provides a shared pool of storage, so that files don’t have to be stored on a particular drive letter. Paul Thurrott of WinSupersite has authored a number of articles on getting the most of Windows Server Essentials, including an overview of the platform for small businesses. Users can download a trial copy of Windows Server Essentials from Microsoft, while the RTM version is available via MSDN or TechNet.   Image: Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows