If you've been wondering whether Microsoft will ever release Windows .NET Server, I have news for you. The software giant has made internal commitments to delivery dates that will put its flagship product--now known as Windows .NET Server 2003--on store shelves sometime between late February and late March of next year.
As you may know, Microsoft posted Release Candidate 1 of Windows .NET Server 2003 (or as everyone in Redmond calls it, WNS) on its Web site back in July. Currently, customers and developers can download RC1 versions of WNS Standard Edition, WNS Enterprise Edition (the follow-on to Windows 2000 Advanced Server), and WNS Enterprise Edition for Intel's 64-bit Itanium (IA-64) servers. According to my Microsoft sources, the company will post RC2 versions for all three WNS editions in late October or early November of this year. At that time, the company will also post WNS Datacenter Edition (for servers with more than eight processors) as well as a new WNS Web Edition that Microsoft is optimizing for Web site hosting.
Once it has posted RC2, Microsoft will set its sites on delivering the final WNS code bases to manufacturing in late December. That is also the time frame when the company will deliver extensive documentation on all WNS editions to its developers and business partners. This should allow many developers to have WNS-ready products by the time the operating system hits the street 60 to 90 days later.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
While WNS will ship more than a year after its originally scheduled debut date, it will be a substantially better product because of the delays. Earlier this year, Microsoft took the entire WNS development team "off line" for a month to run reliability and security tests on their code. The team then spent weeks fixing the defects it discovered. As a result, WNS stands a good chance of being the most reliable and secure Windows OS that Redmond has ever shipped.
The delays also allowed Microsoft to more fully integrate its .NET Frameworks--the company's object-oriented class libraries that support Web services--into WNS. This should significantly improve the performance and reliability of .NET Web services that are written to WNS. As part of the integration, Microsoft has also synchronized the release schedules for WNS, the .NET class libraries, and the Visual Studio development tools. As a result, the software maker will release beta versions of its next release of Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Frameworks--collectively known as "Everett"--around the same time that WNS becomes generally available.
While WNS will offer many benefits to developers, Web administrators will appreciate the new version of Internet Information Server (IIS 6.0) that comes integrated with WNS. Microsoft is redesigning IIS 6.0 to allow Web applications to run separately of each other. If one application is attacked or goes down, other applications can continue running. Moreover, administrators won't have to reinitialize the entire Web server to restart the failed application. Web applications also get fewer automatic privileges in IIS 6.0 than in previous versions. This should make it harder for hackers to take control of servers through vulnerable applications.
For network administrators, WNS offers additional benefits. Among them, perhaps the most welcome are improvements that will make Active Directory easier to administer, such as enhanced directory synchronization and replication facilities. In addition, Microsoft has substantially improved the Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT) to make upgrades to Active Directory less cumbersome. For instance, ADMT can now migrate user passwords as well as their profiles to Active Directory. As an added bonus, the tool supports migrations of Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 as well as WNS. If your company has been delaying an upgrade to Windows 2000 over concerns about Active Directory, the enhanced ADMT may be just what you need to address those migration issues.
Though WNS offers substantial evolutionary improvements over Windows 2000, it also presents a dilemma for companies that are planning an upgrade to Windows 2000 in the next year. At issue is whether to upgrade to Windows 2000 now or wait until later in 2003 to jump to WNS. If you're in this position, I recommend that you contact your Windows software vendors to ask them about their support plans for WNS. You should also download WNS RC1 to learn what it can offer you. You can also click here to access all of Microsoft's technical papers on the new OS version.
While WNS is a major product release for Microsoft, it is only part of a much larger strategy that the software giant has developed to help it become a more dominant enterprise computing vendor. I'll have more to say about that strategy in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.