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Windows Server 2003 goes gold

Microsoft on Friday is expected to announce a finished Windows Server 2003 code, as the company prepares for an April 24 launch in San Francisco.

Microsoft is expected to announce on Friday that Windows Server 2003 has completed testing and has been certified final, or gold, code.

Release to manufacturing (RTM) of Windows Server 2003 code clears the way for next month's product launch event in San Francisco. RTM also means that computer manufacturers can begin selling systems with the software.

"As soon as that product is RTM, the (PC makers) are ready to roll with what they want to do," Bob O'Brien, Microsoft's group product manager for Windows Server, said Tuesday. In recent years, Microsoft's practice has been to let computer makers ship systems with a new operating system ahead of the official launch date. That was the case with Windows XP and Windows 2000.

RTM closes only the first chapter in a long release cycle. Microsoft plans to release several more major Windows Server 2003 components during the next six months or so. Upcoming updates include: Greenwich, Microsoft's new business-class instant messaging technology; Group Policy Management Console; Windows Team Services, a collaboration tool; (RMS), a security enhancement; and Windows Systems Resource Manager (WSRM), among others.

While the Group Policy Management Console won't make RTM, the feature is expected to be delivered around the April 24 launch date, O'Brien said. Many of the other features would come much later. For example, Greenwich is currently in beta testing, and RMS begins the second beta cycle next month.

Windows Server 2003 is Microsoft's high-end operating system the company hopes will help drive sales to the enterprise. But analysts remained cautious about widespread interest in Windows Server 2003. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant delayed the launch of the product three times, compelling many companies interested in it to upgrade to Windows Server 2000 instead, said IDC analyst Al Gillen.

In October 2000, Microsoft said the product would ship in the second half of 2001. In April 2001, the company pushed back delivery of the product, which is an essential component of its .Net Web services strategy, to early 2002. In March 2002, it again postponed delivery until the second half of that year. But in November, it held back delivery for a third time, setting an April launch date.

Microsoft may also have confused customers by renaming the server software three times. The product started out with the code-name Whistler, but was renamed Windows 2002 Server in April 2001. In June 2001, the name was changed to Windows .Net Server, in line with the company's .Net Web services strategy. In August, Microsoft renamed the software Windows .Net Server 2003, but in January removed .Net from the server software's name.

Gillen said he expects many companies to spend "12 to 18 months" evaluating Windows Server 2003.

But Microsoft is betting that customers using 7-year-old Windows NT 4 Server--35 percent of the total--are ripe for an upgrade. In February, Microsoft agreed to buy virtual machine and server technology from Connectix. Businesses eventually would be able to use the technology to consolidate Windows NT 4 applications from multiple machines onto a single Windows Server 2003 system.

Windows Server 2003 will be available in five versions, with one of those being new: Datacenter, for top-end machines with dozens of processors and high reliability requirements; Enterprise Server, for more mainstream multiprocessor servers; Standard Server, for low-end servers; Terminal Server; and a new Web Server for low-end machines used to send Web pages to Internet browsers.

Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition will sell for $999 with five client-access licenses (CALs), or $1,199 for 10 CALs. The Enterprise Edition will sell for $3,999 with 25 CALs. Microsoft would not provide pricing for the Datacenter Edition, as that version of Windows Server 2003 must be purchased with a new computer. Microsoft is introducing a new server product, Web Edition, which will sell for $399.

Pricing for the new versions also reflects changes in how Microsoft licenses the software: companies that buy the server software must also purchase CALs. Previously, Microsoft offered CALs on a per-seat basis. But under the new model, the CAL can either be purchased per computer or per user. The change would benefit companies with employees that access a single server with multiple devices, such as a PC, laptop or a Pocket PC handheld.

Additional CALs will be available for $199 in packs of five or $799 for 20. Windows Server 2003 Terminal Server CALs will cost $749 for five and $2,669 for 20. Microsoft also requires what is called an external connector for users connecting outside the network. The cost is $1,999 for Windows Server 2003 and $7,999 for the Terminal Server version.