Network executives say the latest slippage in the ship date for Windows .Net Server 2003 is unfortunate but not bothersome, and see the operating system as the beginning of a whole new way to integrate resources and share information within a company and with business partners.
Microsoft Corp. on Sunday said the ship date of Windows .Net Server 2003 has slipped into April 2003 and that the operating system will be released in conjunction with the next version of Visual Studio.Net development tools.
Both products would be key milestones for the creation of Microsoft's .Net platform. With Windows.Net Server 2003, the operating system will include the .Net Framework, the runtime environment for Web services applications. The second release candidate, which is a test version of the software before final release, is scheduled to be available in two weeks. Microsoft did not say if there would be a third - but if there is, it could signal another delay in the software.
Up until Sunday, Microsoft had said the software would ship at the end of 2002. The operating system originally was supposed to ship more than a year ago, but development delays and Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing campaign conspired to send the release of Windows .Net Server 2003 into a tailspin.
"In terms of the security initiative, we are happy with the release slippage," says Jay Corriveau, enterprise program director for Reed Elsevier, one of the world's leading publishers of legal, science, business-to-business and educational periodicals. The company, a partner in Microsoft's Joint Development Program that was in Las Vegas to talk about its plans for the new OS, is upgrading from Windows NT. Corriveau is in somewhat of a hurry because he would like to be off NT when support for the server ends at the conclusion of 2003.
He plans to use Windows.Net Server 2003 to improve his Domain Name Service, consolidate servers, and deploy Active Directory to centrally manage users and delegate administrative rights across the company's business units.
"We think Microsoft has made the product better, although it is unfortunate it is late. But I would rather wait on this since the next release of the server OS is a couple of years away," Corriveau says. In fact, Microsoft confirmed last week that its next server OS, code-named Blackcomb, won't ship until 2006.
In the meantime, Windows .Net Server 2003 is taking center stage. It includes enhancements to Active Directory, administrative improvements, resource management tools and performance tweaks.
Many observers have said it is an incremental upgrade to Windows 2000, and Microsoft itself has said it is but a step toward the full .Net release that is planned with Blackcomb.
Some users say for them it signals a major shift for building network architectures with Windows software.
"We are building toward a platform to share information across the enterprise," says Len Couture, chief information officer and executive vice president of IT for Enterasys, a network hardware provider and Microsoft Joint Development Program partner invited to the Comdex trade show by Microsoft to talk about its plans for the operating system.
Couture plans to use Windows .Net Server 2003 as the foundation for a new e-business application for partners that resell Enterasys products. The project includes tying together Microsoft's Commerce Server, Content Management Server and BizTalk Server, and hooking in data from back-end systems such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management applications.
Couture says support for the .Net Framework and XML will allow him to develop Web services, integrate XML-based data from any application and deliver services instead of multiple interfaces to the company's end users and partners. Enterasys plans to deliver that through an interface it is developing called Partner Portal.
New Active Directory features in Windows.Net Server 2003 should help integrate two directory forests for user management, one for the company and one for eight partners. Couture says the directory also helps tighten security, in that it allows Enterasys to tag access control and personalization services to user attributes stored in the directory.
He says consolidation also is a benefit. The company sees about a 25 percent consolidation rate moving 100 Windows NT and 2000 servers to the new operating system.
The OS rollout is the second phase of Couture's architecture changes. The first involved upgrades to Windows XP on the desktop, which includes Group Policy features and remote management capabilities.
Windows.Net Server 2003 will ship in four versions. The Datacenter and Enterprise versions are scheduled to ship in 32-bit and 64-bit models. The Datacenter version would support up to 32 processors, while the Enterprise version would top out at eight. There also is a 32-bit Standard edition that supports up to four processors, and a Web Edition optimized for serving and hosting Web pages that supports up to two processors.
The server shipment is expected to coincide with the next version of the development tools, which had been code-named Everett. Microsoft said the software would officially be called Visual Studio.Net 2003. The final beta shipped Monday. Microsoft says the first version of Visual Studio.Net, released in February 2002, has been adopted by a third of its 6 million developers.
The new release includes the .Net Compact Framework, which supports development of applications for mobile devices, including phones and PDAs. The final version of the framework is available now, and users of the beta of Visual Studio.Net 2003 can use the framework to deploy production applications.
For enterprise developers, Microsoft has added support for three Web services protocols: WS-Security, which is being developed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, and two under development by Microsoft - WS-Routing and WS-Attachments. Microsoft also is adding the ability to include hooks to tie applications into a management console.
Support for J#, which can be used to move Java Server Pages and Java applications to the .Net Framework, also has been added, as well as a wizard to more easily convert Visual Basic 6.0 code to Visual Studio.Net.