Windows Server's identity crisis

Microsoft changes the name of its high-end server software for the third time. Windows Server 2003 is scheduled for an April release.

The next version of Windows Server is suffering yet another identity crisis.

Microsoft on Thursday again changed the name of the product, marking the fourth name for what will now be called Windows Server 2003. The successor to Windows 2000 Server is scheduled to ship in April.

The product started out with the code-name Whistler, but Microsoft named the software Windows 2002 Server in April 2001. At the same time, Microsoft first delayed delivery of the server software until early 2002.

In June 2001, Microsoft changed the name to Windows .Net Server, keeping in line with the company's .Net Web services strategy. In March 2002, Microsoft again delayed delivery of the server software. In August, the company renamed the software Windows .Net Server 2003, which had been scheduled for release by the end of last year. In November, the software titan delayed delivery for a third time.

Windows Server 2003 is the fourth name for the product, which will anchor Microsoft's broader Web services strategy. In December, Microsoft modified licensing terms for the product, which would make it easier for companies to license by user as well as by machine.

"It's a legitimate criticism," Gartner analyst David Smith said of the many name changes. "But overall I think they're doing the right thing. Longer term, this makes sense for them."

Earlier this week, Microsoft notified employees and partners in an e-mail of the name change, which the company said would eventually affect other products.

A Microsoft spokeswoman on Thursday confirmed that the company would evaluate other products with .Net in the name for possible renaming. "The bar there is to make sure nothing is disrupted with the ecosystem," she emphasized.

One of Microsoft's longstanding problems has been explaining exactly what .Net is. Early on, the software titan failed to clearly articulate its .Net strategy, leading to customer and partner confusion, analysts say.

Smith said Microsoft was making no technology change with the name change. "It's purely a branding issue," he said. "They've had a lot of problem explaining .Net. Putting .Net on products in a willy-nilly way only exacerbates the problem. They've certainly been guilty of that, and this is a way of policing that."

In making this and eventually other name changes, the Redmond, Wash.-based company hopes to put more emphasis on the ".Net Connected," logo program for Web services. In the past, Microsoft has used logo programs for products such as Windows XP or Windows Powered portable devices to ensure compliance with standards established by Microsoft. Software developers, for example, must meet certain criteria for their products to receive the Windows XP logo.

"There are some requirements that make sense for getting the .Net Connected logo," Smith said. "You have to be delivering Web Services using the .Net Framework."

The .Net Framework, a key part of Microsoft?s overarching .Net development architecture, automates many development tasks when using the company?s Visual Studio.Net tools and helps software run reliably and securely across multiple servers and computers.

In an e-mail sent to Microsoft partners this week, the company articulated the importance of the logo program to the overall .Net strategy and branding effort.

"The .Net Connected logo indicates a product's ability to easily and consistently connect disparate information, systems and devices to meet the needs of individuals and organizations," according to the e-mail obtained by CNET News.com.

"They're beginning to figure out how to explain this stuff in a rational way," Smith said. "It's only taken them two-and-a-half years."

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