Microsoft has set 12 March as the release to manufacture date for the six new versions of its server operating system, paving the way for a shipping date of 29 April.
The six versions of Windows Server 2003 due to launch in April will be followed by a seventh, called Windows Small Business Server 2003, due late summer, said Mark Tennant, Microsoft's Windows servers product marketing manager, speaking to ZDNet UK. Microsoft's revamp of its server operating system range, which lost the .Net moniker recently following several previous name changes, will form a concerted effort to muscle in on the Unix market.
Microsoft is also hoping that 2003 will be the version that will persuade companies still using Windows NT4 to finally upgrade. Support for Windows NT 4 was due to be cancelled early this year, but pressure from customers forced Microsoft to put the date back to January 2005. "We want to get to the NT4 base onto Windows Server 2003. Customers say it is the one thing they have been waiting for," said Tennant. "A lot of customers have been waiting for Exchange 2003." Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 is due to be generally available in the summer.
April's operating system launch will see the Windows server platform split into more different flavours than ever before, mirroring to some extent the range of Unix operating systems available -- bolstered lately particularly in edge-of-network servers by the rise in popularity of Linux.
For the edge-of-network servers, such as Web servers, Microsoft is to release Windows Server 2003 Web Edition, a cut-down operating system sharing some similarities with the embedded version of the operating that is sold by Microsoft's OEM division to manufacturers building Web servers and appliances such as Network Attached Storage devices. Windows Server 2003 Web Edition will be sold as a packaged product, and a new version of the embedded operating system will also launch for OEMs.
The other new versions of Windows will be general purpose server operating systems: Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition for departmental environments, Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition (replacing Advanced Server) for medium to large enterprises, and at the high end, Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition for heavy database work.
Microsoft will also launch 64-bit versions of the two high-end operating systems; Datacenter Edition 64-bit will be able to scale to 64-way servers, as opposed to the 32-bit version which will, like the current Windows 2000 Datacenter Edition, be confined to 32-way servers. "We've been working with HP on its 64-way SuperDome servers," said Tennant.
Current 32-way versions of Windows 2000 Datacenter sell predominantly on the Unisys ES7000 server platform, and after an initial buzz of activity when the Datacenter launch saw companies such as Dell, Compaq and HP sign up to resell the platform, all three vendors eventually pulled out again. "We have not shipped huge numbers of Windows 2000 Datacenter," admitted Tennant. "Unisys was the primary 32-way platform, but we sold eight-way (configurations) on Compaq and HP. In the US we sold more eight-way versions, and 32-way versions tended to be more popular in the UK."
Microsoft is running a rapid adoption programme in the UK, and plans to have 14 customers on hand for April's launch. "They'll all be well known brands," said Tennant, "from big organisation in the city running Datacenter Server 64-bit with SQL Server 64-bit, to a small charity with a couple of Standard Server boxes."
Tennant said 70 percent of the development time that went into the Windows Server 2003 platform was spent on simplifying, tweaking, and improving security. "It is more of an evolution than a revolution," he said. For example, when Windows Server 2003 is installed, non-essential services will be switched off by default, unlike Windows 2000 which switches on the IIS Web server software by default even if the server is just to be used as a file and print server.
Tennant said the release to manufacture date of 12 March could still change "depending on feedback from partners and customers," but said this would be unlikely to change the public launch date.