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'Longhorn' Server Public Beta Arrives

The next generation Windows Server took the biggest step yet on its long and winding road toward commercial availability when Microsoft announced the release of "Longhorn" Beta 3 Wednesday night.

The next generation of Windows Server took the biggest step yet on its long and winding road toward commercial availability when Microsoft announced the release of "Longhorn" beta 3 Wednesday night.

Beta 3 is the first public release of the OS, downloadable at http://www.microsoft.com/getbeta3. Ward Ralston, a senior technical product manager in the Windows Server group, said, "We're very excited and proud that we're able to deliver the beta 3 milestone on time and with features we've promised our customers. And we've introduced new features that weren't on the radar in beta 2."

Those features include Windows PowerShell, additional Server Core roles and Windows Firewall with Advanced Security.

Windows PowerShell is the new command-line shell that allows, essentially, all tasks to be scripted. It's a feature that many administrators have clamored for over the years, the kind of functionality that's always been available on high-end, scalable OSes like Unix.

Beta 3 also has four additional "Server Core" roles, in addition to the four roles found in earlier Longhorn versions. Server Cores are stripped-down versions of servers that are task-specific, and therefore less resource-intensive than full versions. Some of the new cores include a print server, streaming media server and Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services.

Server Cores will be set up through the new Server Manager, which Ralston called "our one-stop shop for server configuration. With Windows Server 2000 and Windows Server 2003, there were a lot of opportunities for IT pros to make mistakes." Server Manager aims to cut down on those mistakes, Ralston said.

Although Windows Firewall with Advanced Security isn't new in beta 3, the fact that it's turned on by default is. It's a feature that further enhances Microsoft's commitment to security, Ralston said.

"We've had thousands of servers [running Longhorn Server], both internally and through our technology adoption program, and have been monitoring them closely. Security's held up very well. With Longhorn, shields are always up until [administrators] decide which role they want a server to perform," he said.

Ralston said it's part of a paradigm shift for how Microsoft views security: "You don't lock a server down -- you unlock a server by deciding on what role you want."

With the release of Longhorn beta 3, Ralston said Longhorn Server is feature-complete. Microsoft has maintained that Longhorn -- likely to be dubbed "Windows Server 2008" upon commercial availability -- continues to be on schedule for release to manufacturing (RTM) in the "second half of 2007." No more precise dates were given for RTM, but Ralston said that at least one Release Candidate (RC) will be forthcoming following the beta period.

"As they take it for a test drive, our customers and partners will find we made some vast improvements in Windows Server 'Longhorn' to help them reduce costs and adapt to changing business needs," said Bill Laing, general manager of the Windows Server Division at Microsoft, in a press release. "Between early adopter customers and Microsoft IT, we have hundreds of servers running in production environments today. If there's one message we want to send today, it is 'get ready, download and evaluate.'"

Longhorn also ushers in the end of an era for Microsoft: Ralston confirmed that it's the last 32-bit OS the company will produce. Much like Microsoft Exchange 2007, future releases will be 64-bit or higher. Asked if Microsoft is worried about future OSes not being able to run on legacy systems, Ralston was confident in the company's strategy, stating that companies like Dell and HP are not making 32-bit servers anymore.

That's a bit of hyperbole, as server manufacturers continue to offer 32-bit hardware for current server OSes, but the move toward 64-bit power in the future should continue to trend upward.

Helene Love Snell, a senior product manager in the Windows Server Group, said that Microsoft's own internal testing -- and through testing partners -- shows that Longhorn is ready for primetime.

"We've got close to 1,000 servers running in a production environment," she said. "It's a really good testament to the quality of the beta."

Although that may be true, public betas tend to uncover many more bugs than private betas, since the test bed is expanded exponentially. So Microsoft's pronouncements of Longhorn beta 3's stability might be true in its closed test environment, but could prove substantially less so in the myriad environments into which it's about to be thrust. Bug reports are sure to be just around the corner.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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