During the Redmond, Wash.-based company's annual employee meeting this week, executives revealed that the follow-up to Windows 2000 Server will be called Windows .Net Server 2003.
Microsoft developed the high-end operating system under the code-name Whistler. In April 2001, it officiallythe product Windows 2002 Server. Microsoft later changed the name to Windows .Net Server and has now added 2003 to the product.
The tweaking of the name is another sign that the twice-delayed .Net Server will not reach the majority of customers before early 2003, analysts say. In October 2000, Microsoft said the product would ship in the second half of 2001. In April 2001, Microsoft pushed back delivery of the product, which is an essential component of the company'sWeb services strategy, to early 2002. In March, the software giant again delivery until the second half of 2002.
In late July, Microsoft issued the first release candidate, or near-final test version, of the product. But the company predicted that at least one more release candidate would be coming before the software's code would be certified final, or golden. Given that there are only four months remaining in the year and that it takes between four weeks and six weeks after release of gold code before new software appears on computers or store shelves, analysts are skeptical whether many, if any, customers will receive .Net Server 2003 this year.
Although Microsoft has publicly held to a 2002 delivery date, internally the company has more likely been looking at 2003, said IDC analyst Al Gillen.
"I don't think this represents a sudden change from, say, a couple months ago," he said. "I think they're on the same track they've been on for about the last six months. I wasn't expecting it out this year at this point."
Microsoft representatives could not be reached for comment about the availability of .Net Server 2003. But in late July, the company indicated the product was still on track for late-year release.
Still, Microsoft already has started switching over to .Net Server throughout the company, including in the systems that host the high-traffic Microsoft.com Web site.A slow transition?
But other companies may be making the transition because many already have moved to or are going to move to the appealing Windows 2000 Server family, analysts say.
Windows NT 4, which preceded Windows 2000 Server, accounted for 61 percent of Windows Server installations at the end of 2001, according to IDC. IDC expects more rapid adoption of Windows 2000 Server this year, but NT 4 is still projected to account for 32 percent of Windows Server software by the end of 2002.
"I know 2003 release is way further out than they were talking about," Gillen said. "But I'm not sure that the customer base is sitting around waiting for this product. It's another release coming pretty close to another major release. I think 2003 will be good for them." The majority of NT 4 holdouts would likely go to Windows 2000 Server, he said.
The new product will be available in four versions: Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition and Web Edition.
One of the key attributes of .Net Server 2003 will be broad support for Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based Web services. XML, a cousin to the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) used to format Web pages, is seen as an important mechanism for delivering Web services. Microsoft competitors, including IBM and Sun Microsystems, also are developing XML-based Web services.
Microsoft plans to adopt these XML services into other new products. The next version of the company's productivity suite, code-named, will use XML as a native file format and to additional XML-based subscription services.
.Net Server 2003 also is an important product for delivering digital media services that would compete with server software from Apple Computer and RealNetworks. Apple last week Mac OS X 10.2 Server, which can host and serve up digital media in the and formats.
On Wednesday, Microsoft will release a public beta, or test version, of codecs as well. The digital media player also sports new features for consumers? privacy., its next digital media playback, authoring and server software. The release will take place at a Hollywood-style gala hosted by company Chairman Bill Gates in Los Angeles. Microsoft is expected to release new audio and video
Microsoft is still refining its .Net Web services strategy, which Gates has described as progressing more slowly than originally projected. Analysts say that repeated delays delivering .Net Server may have contributed to the slower-than-expected progress.