Continuing the discussion from Legality of running a Minecraft server on Windows 10?:
The connection limits are nothing new, and exist under older Windows desktop versions also. For example in Windows 7 the terms can be seen by going to the start menu and run “winver”:
3e: Device Connections. You may allow up to 20 other devices to access software installed on the licensed computer to use only File Services, Print Services, Internet Information Services and Internet Connection Sharing and Telephony Services.
In general this has been interpreted by many as to be referring to the Microsoft software itself, but not for any other software you may use with it. Microsoft writes their legalese as if they are the only product in existence, and makes no consideration for anything else or any other uses.
What Microsoft doesn’t want is a business owner trying to use a Windows desktop as a Windows file server. Microsoft has inserted some code limitations to enforce this, limiting the number of simultaneous file server (“shares”) connections.
Similarly they don’t want a business running multiple remote desktop connections for multiple users, on a single Windows desktop. You are expected to buy a Windows Server license and then buy additional Terminal Server licenses for each simultaneous remote user.
And likewise Microsoft doesn’t want a business using their web server (IIS) on a cheap Windows desktop, serving commercial webpages to the world.
A business owner should be able to fork out the $800-$3000 that it costs for Windows Server 2008 / 2012, and Microsoft wants to make sure they are getting their cut of the business owner’s income.
However it is generally accepted that none of these restrictions apply if you are running some other non-Microsoft software, such as for example Apache web server on a Windows desktop OS.
Why would a business owner do this? Why would you risk your profits and your bottom line and deviate away from the staid and true Microsoft product line? It makes no fiscal sense to Microsoft why anyone would do this, and as such this application falls outside the boundary of what is considered normal for product licensing and usage.
Apache web server is free software and has no restrictions on the maximum number of simultaneous connections. This puts you outside the realm of normal Microsoft licensing and support, because you’re not using IIS, you’re using Apache.
Likewise Minecraft itself does not have the same connection limits as Windows, as it is a different software. (It may be owned by Microsoft now, but the TOS is different from the core Windows OS.)
Minecraft does not make use of remote access to Windows File Services, Print Services, IIS, ICS, or Telephony, so the 20 connection limit doesn’t apply.
And besides, what money do you even have to give to Microsoft for a full server license? As a Minecraft server operator, likely you have no income whatsoever, you are doing this purely as a hobby, and you never contact Microsoft for support to run your game server.
If Microsoft were to try to actually charge a public Minecraft server hobbyist for the full cost of Windows Server 2012 to run their hobby server, the server owner would be literally dumping Windows in the trash instantly that day, and immediately switching to some free linux alternative.
As a hobbyist just doing a public Minecraft with essentially zero income (or just donations to keep it going), you are not the “fiscal target” of the license terms that are intent on restricting/preventing the usage of the Windows desktop software as a server OS, by a for-profit business.