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Windows Server 2003 Released to Manufacturing

Microsoft on Friday released Windows Server 2003 to manufacturing, clearing the way for OEMs to begin building systems with the new operating system and for Microsoft to begin boxing and distributing the OS for the April 24 launch.

"Today, Windows Server 2003 was released to manufacturing, and it is done," said Bill Veghte, corporate vice president of the Windows Server group.

Release to Manufacturing, or RTM, is the official development milestone when the code is finished and any further changes must come in hotfixes and service packs. At the RTM stage, the OS is distributed to OEMs and sent to Microsoft's manufacturing sites for mass production.

The milestone marks the end of an oft-delayed, three-year development process that involved 5,000 Microsoft developers and thousands of customers. Recent Microsoft RTMs, for Windows XP and Windows 2000, have come two months before the product launch date, instead of the one-month timeframe here. Microsoft had previously been targeting a late February RTM, which then fell further and further into March. However, company officials have maintained that the OS would be ready for launch on April 24. And those previous RTM examples involved client operating systems, which present greater logistical challenges due to their higher volumes.

Still, without saying so directly, Microsoft appears to be preparing the industry not to expect Windows Server 2003 on retailers' shelves right on April 24.

"The product will be available for download within 24 hours for select audiences and we will make the product available to all commercial channels OEMs, System Builders and others as well. Some of these channels have longer time to market -- for instance retail takes a bit longer than OEMs," a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

Analyst Al Gillen of IDC noted that relatively few of Microsoft's server operating system sales go through the retail channel. "I would tend to say that the majority of the Windows server operating systems are going out through the OEM and the business-to-business channel, not retail," Gillen said.

Jay Bretzmann, director of IBM's eServer xSeries, said the month between RTM and launch gives IBM plenty of time to get servers ready to ship with the new OS. "I think we will ship the bulk of the line supporting Windows Server 2003 at the Microsoft launch, and we will have the Datacenter version shortly after," Bretzmann said. Because of Microsoft's special stress-test and other requirements for vendors to sell Datacenter Server, those systems generally take longer to prepare.

Taking the opportunity of the RTM announcement to tout the enhancements coming in Windows Server 2003, Veghte listed the most important selling points as the high degree of quality assurance testing, the huge emphasis on security in the release and major improvements in scalability.

"This is the most comprehensively tested software we've ever done," Veghte said. Testing involved the longest stress tests yet for a Windows operating system, and extensive testing of more than 60 customers environments in Microsoft's engineering center.

"We had 561,000 customers signed up for the Customer Preview Program. That is the most significant preview program Microsoft has ever run," Veghte said. By comparison, Veghte said, there were about 265,000 preview downloads for Windows XP.

As the first major product focus of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative, Windows Server 2003 received a code scrub and feature evaluation unlike any previous version of Windows. Veghte on Friday cited the cost of the effort within the Windows R&D budget as $200 million, a figure Microsoft has used earlier for the cost of the initiative across the whole company.

Veghte said Windows Server 2003 has "three times less attack surface than NT 4," and he added, "We're seeing customers report 20 percent increases in security."

Scalability is also a major area of enhancement, especially in the 64-bit Datacenter Edition, which will support up to 64 processors and 512 GB of RAM. "Windows Server 2003 is about 100 times more scalable than NT 4 and about 1/10th the cost per transaction. It's about two times the performance of Windows 2000," said Veghte, adding, "You're going to see some very exciting benchmarks at the launch."

Among other highlights, according to Veghte:

  • There have been 650 technology innovations and enhancements in the operating system.
  • Pre-release customers are seeing unplanned downtime reduced by 50 percent compared to infrastructures running on Windows NT 4.0.
  • Pre-release customers are seeing two times faster performance, three times fewer security attacks, and a 40 percent improvement in stability.
  • Across-the-board improvements are enabling early adopters to "refocus and redirect their IT staff resources by up to 35 percent."

    Web services, once the most hyped element of the new operating system, have taken a back seat to the other enhancements as Windows Server 2003 approaches the launch. Still, the operating system, which includes the .NET Framework, will launch simultaneously with Visual Studio .NET 2003. Microsoft will also formally launch SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit) and Windows XP 64-bit Edition Version 2003 on that date.

    Asked for an update on some of the services and supplemental products planned around the Windows Server 2003 launch, Veghte said to expect them within 60-120 days. "When I look at the timelines, I think Windows SharePoint Services will be the first out of the gate," he said.

    Six major supplemental features or services have either been announced as downloadable add-ins during the development cycle or pulled from the operating system during development. Other than SharePoint Services, they include Real-time Communications, Virtual Server, Windows Rights Management Services, the Security Configuration Wizard and the Group Policy Management Console.

    There are four major editions of Windows Server 2003. They are Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition and Windows Server 2003 Web Edition. The Datacenter and Enterprise editions each also come in a 64-bit edition, which got a slight name adjustment on Friday. Those editions will now be called Datacenter or Enterprise "Edition for 64-bit Itanium 2 Systems." The change clarifies that the initial releases support only Intel's 64-bit processors and not AMD's 64-bit Opteron processors.

    Windows Server 2003 was originally supposed to ship in early 2002. It has been renamed several times, having gone by Windows 2002, Windows .NET Server and Windows .NET Server 2003, before Windows Server 2003 became official.

    MCP Magazine Editorial Director Dian L. Schaffhauser contributed to this report.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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