Windows Server 2003

Microsoft is gearing up to launch Windows Server 2003 next month. The April 24 launch will be the result of a three-year effort since the February 2000 launch of Windows 2000. The development cycle was marked by frequent changes of direction, each highlighted by constant renaming of the operating system, and cascading delays. In other words, it's finally time to pay attention. The details of the operating system are now set, and it's possible to evaluate what they mean for your organization.

At a very high level, Microsoft has done five things with Windows Server 2003: elevated security to the top priority, matured the Active Directory, brought Windows to scalability and availability parity with Unix/RISC systems, introduced a low-end edition that is more price competitive with Linux, and pulled the .NET Web services framework into the operating system.

The security push, which included the Trustworthy Computing initiative, caused the biggest delay in Windows Server 2003's release. But it is a truly significant initiative. While Windows NT's designers worked from the beginning to build a secure operating system, a $200 million code scrub and developer training program resulted in a much more secure release this time around.

While critics derided Windows Server 2003 as a 5.2 release (Windows 2000 being 5.0 and Windows XP, 5.1) prior to the security overhaul, the Active Directory component was never going to be less than a full 2.0 version of the directory services technology introduced with Windows 2000. Microsoft hasn't disappointed, with major enhancements that make Active Directory much more flexible in handling mergers, acquisitions and other inevitable network changes.

Continuing the momentum it generated with Windows 2000, Microsoft can advance Windows Server 2003 as a stronger argument that the premium that users pay for scalability and availability for Unix/RISC systems isn't justified. Windows now has 64-bit editions, support for much more memory and support for massive SMP systems that several OEMs are shipping or preparing to ship.

Even as it enjoys validation for the Wintel price/performance model at the high end, Microsoft finds itself defending its flank from an even more price-competitive Lintel model at the low end. Windows Server 2003, Web Edition, represents Microsoft's first major tactical product for fighting off the Linux strategic threat. It's an open question whether the limited functionality server at a price point of $400 will do anything to slow Linux momentum.

Finally, Microsoft has embedded the .NET Framework for Web services and several other Web services enhancements directly in the operating system. The move will theoretically make it easier to deploy .NET-based Web services applications since developers can depend on the framework being present in all Windows Server 2003 systems.

See the individual articles below to drill down into the details of this incremental, but rich, operating system release. -- Scott Bekker

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