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I keep seeing these two categories of software package on the ESRI site but nothing making it clear the difference between what ArcGIS Desktop is vs. ArcGIS For Desktop. I use ArcGIS Desktop (i think) that has ArcMap, ArcCatalog, etc. what does ArcGIS For Desktop have that is different?

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    Same thing, different name, I think there was a rebrand from Desktop to For Desktop somewhere about 10.3. – Michael Stimson May 31 '18 at 22:37
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    " for " was added at 10.3.x/10.4.x, then removed again at 10.5. – Vince May 31 '18 at 23:13
  • @Vince I've added some additional evidence that "for" started at 10.1 into my answer - it's not important but I thought I had been at pains to insert "for" for longer than two dot releases. – PolyGeo Jun 1 '18 at 1:13
  • Maybe Desktop was "for" and Server wasn't, then Server was too? I've been a Server guy for most of two decades, and it's all been a blur. – Vince Jun 1 '18 at 4:02
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They are the same product i.e. there is no difference.

My recollection is that when launched in 1999 what today is known as ArcGIS Desktop 10.6 was known simply as ArcGIS 8.0.

Later, maybe at 9.0, and certainly around the time ArcGIS Server was launched it was renamed to be called ArcGIS Desktop.

Then at 10.1 (I think) the name was changed to ArcGIS for Desktop, and at then at 10.5 it was changed back to ArcGIS Desktop.

To track some of these name changes look at the titles of these help pages from 10.0 and its six dot releases:

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