Microsoft unfurls .Net Server RC1

Heralding it as an important development milestone, Microsoft on Wednesday announced it will release Thursday to beta testing its Windows .Net Server operating system, which company officials claimed will be "rock solid."

Besides containing all the fundamental infrastructure features and capabilities of its predecessor, Windows 2000 Server, .Net Server Release Candidate 1 (RC1) also has some key building blocks from the company's .Net initiative, including the .Net Framework for developing and deploying exploitive applications and Web services.

Microsoft concentrated on the features it thinks that its IT and developer audience want most: security, reliability, and enhanced performance, according to Jim Allchin, group vice president of the platforms group at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

At a press briefing here Wednesday morning, Allchin highlighted the intensive security development work undertaken by Microsoft engineers since the release of Windows XP. Allchin said .Net Server RC1 is the first operating system to have been subject to close security scrutiny. He described the state of enterprise security at "crisis level," noting that trust remains a core limitation to new technology adoption.

"The reason I am highlighting [.Net Server RC1] in this talk is the security ramifications [of the operating system]," he said.

Allchin described RC1 as the "foundation" for the future release of .Net Server due in 2003. As it stands now, RC1 contains a number of Web services-focused features built into its core, such as a UDDI server.

The OS is also "secure by design" with its CLR and .Net Framework "security aware." Emphasizing .Net Server RC1 is "secure by default," Allchin said protocols such as Netbui were removed because of long-term security concerns.

Allchin added that .Net Server RC1 also offers support for DIME (Direct Internet Messaging Encapsulation) and the emerging authentication standards being developed by the WS-Security organization.

In addition, Windows .Net Server is addressing the identity management and authentication space, coming "Federation ready," he said. Microsoft is developing the OS around its TrustBridge initiative to enable enterprises to collaborate securely across firewalls.

Demonstrating Microsoft's confidence in the OS to date, Allchin said that within six weeks, all of Microsoft.com will be running it, with the beta versions already deployed extensively throughout Microsoft's campus.

Just prior to Allchin's presentation, Microsoft chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced Microsoft will work to improve its "presence" capabilities on .Net Server with the "Greenwich" Real Time Communications server due out in the first half of 2003. Greenwich will be supported on the services side by .Net Messenger.

Some analysts admitted Microsoft has made some notable improvements to the product, which could push some users off the fence who now trying to decide whether to move to the new release or stand pat with the current one.

"There are features in this that will appeal to some [IT shops] and [those] who will want to upgrade certain machines sooner rather than later. They have made some nice improvement to its performance and scalability," said Al Gillen, a senior analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

Gillen added, however, that RC1 is certainly evolutionary and will not likely set the IT world on fire immediately.

"Customers will look at this and say this is the maturation of the technology. Frankly, Microsoft has improved performance and cleared some of the other bottlenecks in Windows 2000 to make this a better product. But will everyone run out to buy this right away? Probably not," Gillen said.

One analyst said the upcoming .Net Server represents two significant efforts on Microsoft's behalf, namely making XML the foundation of its server stack and offering a more robust server for enterprise-class use.

"In the time between Windows 2000 and .Net, Microsoft has shifted its strategy from Windows everywhere to XML everywhere," said Frank Gillett, industry analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

Gillett added that Microsoft is realizing the importance of making its servers work better with non-Windows platforms, such as Linux and Unix. At the same time, Microsoft is trying to produce a server capable of performing at the same level of Unix systems.

For those companies needing enterprise scale that found Windows 2000 insufficient in that capacity, .Net Server is another attempt to sell them on the idea that Windows servers can scale.

".Net Server is the next step to say 'look, it's as good as Unix,' " Gillett said.

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