What I Beta Tested on My Summer Vacation
Microsoft beta products: A look at what's coming, when it's coming and why you should care.
There are so many Microsoft products in various stages of beta testing that I thought it would help to give you a back-to-school roundup. Here's a look at what's
coming, when it's coming and why you should care.
With a new beta just released, Microsoft's AntiSpyware software (code-named "Atlanta")—which it acquired from
Giant Software—is functional and well designed. Unfortunately, it has been dogged by accusations that it deliberately lets through spyware from certain
companies—an accusation Microsoft vehemently denies.
The software seems effective to me. It has trapped a number of spyware infestations in the past few weeks and regularly updates itself behind the scenes. Expect this product to ship sometime in late 2005. Microsoft's plans call for a free release to consumers. Licensing for businesses has not yet been announced.
The much-talked-about new version of Windows is becoming more renowned for features that have been dropped—like WinFS and Microsoft Shell (MSH, or Monad)—than features that are still included. Microsoft recently picked the somewhat fruity-sounding Windows Vista as the new name for the product formerly code-named Longhorn. Frankly, it sounds more like the name for a new hybrid from Toyota, but we shall not dwell upon mere names.
Much of the world is still getting its first look at Longhorn—sorry, I mean Vista—after an early August beta release. The big news is the new developer technologies, heavily centered on managed .NET Framework-compatible code, as well as a handful of highly publicized features like Desktop Search.
Vista is more likely to see faster uptake than Windows XP, mainly because by the time it ships in late 2006, XP will be pushing five years old and the world will be chomping at the bit for a new version of Windows. Microsoft's biggest challenge for Vista is to make it as secure as humanly possible, a task doubtlessly made more difficult by all the new technology being built into and on top of the aging Windows NT platform.
| Beta Man's
| The software described here is incomplete and still under development; expect it to change before its final release—and hope it changes for the better.
SQL Server 2005
Because it's also replacing a five-year-old product, SQL Server 2005 (code-named "Yukon") is also likely to see fast adoption. The big news in Yukon is massive integration with Visual Studio 2005, including embedding the .NET Framework Common Language Runtime (CLR) into the SQL Server engine.
As a result, you can now write stored procedures and other database objects in managed code as well as the native Transact-SQL (T-SQL) language. The idea behind all this integration is to speed development and make database applications more flexible.
Yukon, which is still referred to as Yukon, also ships with a host of management and performance improvements.
It has shaped up into a solid release through a series of community tech-nology previews (CTPs) rather than the traditional beta releases. New
editions—including SQL Server Express and SQL Server Workgroup Edition—provide price points for smaller applications, which should help to make SQL Server more ubiquitous. Look for SQL Server 2005 in November.
Visual Studio 2005
Releasing along with Yukon in
November, Visual Studio 2005 (code-named "Whidbey") is going to be more than a new version of the language (chock-full of tools developers will love, as well as the aforementioned tight integration with Yukon). It also introduces a new version of the .NET Framework itself. Version 2.0 will provide new
capabilities for enterprise development.
Fortunately, the Framework's design makes backward compatibility a cinch. The new version won't replace the
current 1.1 version, but rather sit alongside it so current .NET applications will continue to run just fine.
Windows Server 2003 R2
November will be a busy month for Microsoft. You'll also see Release 2 of Windows Server 2003. Rather than a completely new version, R2 incorporates some new features that add to Win2003's capabilities (see "What's New in R2," Windows Insider, July 2005). Notable improvements include an enhanced
Distributed File System (DFS), much-anticipated new Print Management Console (PMC), improved Storage Resource Management (SRM), Active Directory Federation Services, more Unix/Linux interoperability (including Identity Management, a Network File System provider and a subsystem for Unix applications), Active Directory Application Mode (AD/AM), and
version 2.0 of the .NET Framework. The R2 beta is available now.
Virtual Server 2005
Service Pack 1
This is due for release any time now. Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 (VS2005 SP1) introduces 64-bit host support for VS2005 (see "Virtual Server Grows Up," Beta Man, July 2005). That means you can use host boxes with gobs and gobs of memory—not to mention the fast, new dual-core 64-bit Opteron processors from AMD. If you own VS2005, install the service pack.
Internet Explorer 7
Nowhere is Microsoft's ability to turn on a dime exhibited more clearly than with IE7, a product that Microsoft once assured us would never exist outside of a new version of Windows. However, with security problems continuing to plague IE and Mozilla's Firefox browser eating away at IE's market share, IE7 became too strategically important to wait for Longhorn—I mean Vista (we'll have some fun with this name). Expect tabbed browsing, RSS feeds and a "low-rights IE" feature to help improve security.
Expect tabbed browsing (which despite its existence in nearly every other browser in the universe was apparently something the IE team had to think real hard about according to one team member's blog (http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2005/05/26/422103.aspx) as a main improvement. Others include RSS feeds and a "low-rights IE" feature to help improve security.
|Wanted: Betas for Review
|Beta Man is always on the lookout for quality products to review. If you know of a software product that is currently or soon to be in beta, contact Beta Man at firstname.lastname@example.org. Vendors are welcome, but please act early—the meticulous Beta Man needs plenty of lead time.
As you may expect, much of IE7 will focus on security to help combat its heavily tarnished reputation. There will be an overhaul to IE's Security Zones, which most technically inexperienced users find completely baffling. The new IE7 will be a free upgrade, but will only be available for WinXP (and possibly Win2003), which is a shame for the Windows 2000 users. A beta should be available by the time you read this.
IE7 will not be the full IE being shipped with Vista. That version will include advanced graphics capabilities, new features and will be integrated into Vista's search technology. It will also be more secure, as it can rely on security measures being implemented in the operating system itself.
Office 12 and Groove 4
No one knows much—even internally at Microsoft where planning is still underway—about Office 12 and Groove 4. I mention these products together because with Microsoft's recent acquisition of Groove Networks, we know Groove is going to see some major integration with Office.
Office 12 is more defined, because it's on a release track to coincide with Vista (I bet they're going to name it Office Vista). Microsoft has been remarkably tight-lipped about new features. We do know Office 12 will run on older
versions of Windows, not just Vista. Obviously, Outlook 12 will align with new functionality in Exchange 12. Expect Office 12 sometime in the Vista timeframe (late 2006), with betas in
late 2005 and mid-2006. Groove will probably begin factoring into that release schedule at some point, as well.
Microsoft has been more open about new features coming in Exchange 12. Edge Services will improve security, including the current Intelligent
Message Filter technology. Automatic setup of Outlook profiles will help
centralize and automate provisioning for new clients. There will also be scripting for all Exchange Service Manager components, continuous backup (through replication to a secondary database), policy-based configuration compliance management, improved calendaring, a 64-bit edition and increased store limits.
Exchange 12 will ship with the first version of Monad, the Microsoft Shell (MSH) that was originally slated for release with Longhorn—sorry, Vista—but is now pushed back. Every component of Exchange will be scriptable through MSH, which Microsoft intends to help improve system automation and administration. Expect to see Exchange 12 in late 2006.
Audit Collection Services
Microsoft's solution for consolidating security log entries from multiple servers has a secure agent-server architecture that helps prevent both spoofing and improper configuration. It also provides centralized security event reporting. Unfortunately, Audit Collection Services (ACS) seems to have dropped off Microsoft's radar. I was hopeful that ACS would make it into Windows Server 2003 R2, but that doesn't seem to have happened. At this point, I can't help but wonder if ACS has been pulled back for re-development as a commercial product or inclusion in some other project.
More InformationWindows XP MCE 2005 Update and Windows XP MCE 2006
We don't know much about the changes to the WinXP MCE (Media Center Edition), but speculation abounds. For WinXP MCE 2005 Update (code-named "Emerald"), we know that native digital cable support will be included, as well as user experience improvements. It's likely that WinXP MCE 2006 (code-named "Diamond") will include further high definition support (MCE already supports off-the-air high definition), possibly including DVD-HD.
It's unclear right now whether Diamond will be based on WinXP or Vista. Rumors suggest that MCE will be available in a 64-bit variant at some point (WinXP is already, so that's not a stretch). Unfortunately, MCE still suffers from an abysmal retail marketing effort, making it highly unlikely that anyone walking into a Circuit City or Best Buy will ever see one, let alone buy one. Emerald may be shipping by the time you read this. Diamond is expected in the Vista timeframe in late 2006.
Windows Media Player 11
There should be a beta of WMP11 (code-named "Polaris") released later this year. This is intended to be the compatibility release between WinXP and Vista (meaning WMP11 will essentially be an XP-compatible version of Vista's WMP). New codecs and possible improvements to Windows Media Digital Rights Management (DRM) are the most likely improvements.