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Microsoft Releases Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2

Microsoft achieved its "general availability" release milestone today for Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2.

Microsoft officials had promised a big release today, with Satya Nadella, Microsoft's cloud and enterprise executive vice president, describing the Oct. 18 release earlier this month as "one of the biggest release waves I have witnessed inside of Microsoft." The general availability milestone means that the products are available, although volume licensing price lists could arrive next month. Microsoft will increase the price of Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter edition by 28 percent over last year's model.

This product release is a key one for enabling Microsoft's more cloud-centric vision for IT, as many of Microsoft's Windows Azure-enabled scenarios depend on this R2 wave of products. Microsoft also released Visual Studio 2013 yesterday for the developer community.

Windows Releases
While Microsoft released an update version of Windows 8.1 yesterday, today is the earliest day in which retail boxed copies of the new operating system, as well as new computers running the new OS, will be available for sale in retail outlets. Presumably, today is also the general availability day of new devices running Windows RT 8.1. However, Microsoft may be the only equipment manufacturer selling them with its Surface 2 product, as Dell apparently was the last traditional OEM to drop Windows RT devices from its product offerings.

The Windows RT 8.1 update for Windows RT users was released yesterday and is available as a download through the Windows Store, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. However, a Microsoft Surface blog post indicates that consumers wanting to get Surface 2 with Windows RT 8.1 or Surface Pro with Windows 8.1 will have to wait until "Tuesday, October 22" to buy those devices.

Windows Server 2012 R2 is arriving with Hyper-V improvements, along with improvements to Internet Information Services 8.5, plus support for Linux-based servers via System Center 2012 R2. Those improvements are arriving in addition to general cloud integration improvements with Windows Azure, as well as storage improvments enabling the use of mixed and commodity storage media. For an early preview of Windows Server 2012 R2 features, see this Redmond article.

Microsoft had indicated last month that Windows Server 2012 R2 did not support running any version of Exchange. However, with the general availability release of the server today, a Microsoft spokesperson clarified that status:

  • "Exchange 2013 supported on Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V when running a guest OS of Windows Server 2012.
  • "In the coming months there will be an update to Exchange so that it will be supported on top of the new Windows Server 2012 R2."

Windows Intune and System Center
Windows Intune, Microsoft's cloud-enabled PC management system, was supposed to be available as a new release for this product launch, according to past statements from Microsoft officials. Microsoft conceives of Windows Intune as a complementary solution to its System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 Configuration Manager and System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager products for enabling mobile device management. However, a Windows Intune team blog post today indicated that Microsoft achieved its integration between Windows Intune and System Center 2012 SP1 Configuration Manager back in December. Apparently, there was no new Windows Intune release today.

While organizations can use Windows Intune with System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager for mobile device management today, it appears that the portal components are lagging a bit. Microsoft's mobile device management concept relies on Web-accessible company portals for housing line-of-business apps that end users can install. However, these "company portal apps" seem to be a bit delayed.

"To enable people to have a consistent access to applications across their devices, we will have Company Portal apps available in the next few days for Windows 8.0/8.1, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, and iOS," Microsoft's server and cloud blog explained today. "A 'preview' of the Android Company Portal will be available from Google Play later this month, and we hope to deliver the final release in December. We’ll update you when these are published."

In addition to cloud and mobile device management capabilities enabled by the new R2 products, Microsoft is touting virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) support through Remote Desktop Services (RDS, formerly known as "Terminal Services") in Windows Server 2012 R2. Microsoft claims that the costs associated with running VDI, in which desktop OSes are accessed remotely from a server instead of from the client device, are lessened via Windows Server 2012 R2 because of the server's tiered storage spaces and virtual hard disk deduplication capabilities. Licensing VDI is another cost consideration, although Microsoft did recently expand service provider use rights for RDS on Windows Azure.

Microsoft has already released Remote Desktop apps for Android, iOS, and OS X, as well as Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1. These clients work with RDS to enable VDI, RemoteApp-enabled applications and remote connections to PCs via the RD Gateway (a server role function of Windows Server).

Microsoft's general availability announcement today listed the following products as being associated with this R2 wave release:

IT pros or those wanting to test the new products can find a roster of available evaluation editions at this page.

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