Microsoft roping more into Longhorn Server release

Software maker says it has added to Longhorn Server since the last major test version and that the OS is on track for release later this year.

With Windows Vista, Microsoft had to cut features to try to get the release out the door. With its upcoming server release, though, Microsoft is actually adding a few features.

Since it released Beta 2 of Longhorn Server in May, Microsoft has brought back a new command-line interface known as PowerShell and added several new pre-configured server "roles."

By contrast, as Microsoft tried to get Windows Vista ready for market, it had to cut several features, including PC-to-PC synchronization and the WinFS file system.

"We come to Beta 3 with all limbs intact," said Ward Ralston, a senior technical product manager in the Windows Server group. "We even added things. We're feeling really good about the development of Windows Server 'Longhorn.'"

"We come to Beta 3 with all limbs intact."
--Ward Ralston, senior technical product manager, Windows Server group

Microsoft is hoping to publicly release Beta 3 of the product before the end of June, with the final version available in the second half of this year. This week, the company released a new interim build to some testers, a version that Ralston said is "feature complete," meaning there are not any new tricks yet to be added to the code.

But some say it is too soon for Microsoft to declare victory. Gartner analyst John Enck said that features may yet be sliced out of Longhorn, noting that such moves often happen at the last minute.

"The history here shows that something is going to be left on the cutting-room floor," he said. "It's just a question of what."

Nor is Enck convinced Microsoft will hit its release target. "They've never had an on-time delivery," he said. "This could be the first one, but maybe not."

Enck said that Microsoft appears to be on track with its development milestones, but nonetheless said that Gartner's position is that "it is very likely that the release will slip into 2008."

Microsoft, for its part, hopes to stick to its new schedule of having server releases every four years and interim releases every two years. The last major release, Windows Server 2003, came in April of that year, while a smaller update, Windows Server 2003 R2, came in October 2005.

"The history here shows that something is going to be left on the cutting-room floor. It's just a question of what."
--John Enck, analyst, Gartner

As for what's in Longhorn Server, Microsoft is adding several technologies, including a long-talked-about Network Access Protection feature that allows companies to keep laptops off a network until they have proper virus definitions and security patches.

Microsoft is also expanding a notion, introduced in earlier versions, of role-based configuration, meaning a server can be set up to do a specific task. With Longhorn Server, Microsoft is allowing businesses to only install the code necessary to that task, reducing the opportunity for such machines to fall prey to an attack.

A new server core option installs only the absolute minimum of the operating system. There is no Windows Explorer, no media player, no graphic interface, in fact. There is only a simple command line where IT workers can select one of eight roles, including file or DNS server, as well as new options added recently, such as print server. At that point, all the bits needed for that function--and just those bits--are installed.

That's in contrast to past releases where IT managers really had to understand the ins and outs of the operating system to set up a particular kind of server. "With Longhorn, we've really abstracted a lot of the complexity," Ralston said.

In addition to the role-based options, Microsoft is trying other avenues to try to make servers running Longhorn less open to attack. Rather than have all of its ports and such open by default, the new server operating system comes with everything closed. "It's totally shields up," Ralston said.

Enck said he is all for anything that improves the security and manageability of the operating system and he said there are lots of individual features in Longhorn that are, by themselves, interesting.

However, he said Microsoft may have a tough sell because of the lack of big-ticket features, a problem similar to the one the company has with Vista. And if the Vista marketing team is still throwing features against a wall to see what sticks, Enck said the Longhorn team is still a step behind that.

"They are figuring out what to throw against the wall," he said.

Another challenge is that some of the features, such as Network Access Protection or support for the IPv6 networking standard require more than just an operating system upgrade.

"There's a lot of plumbing changes that happen in Longhorn that you don't fully enjoy until you've made other changes to your infrastructure," Enck said.

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