Tech Industry

Microsoft says server upgrades on track

The company's executives confirm plans to deliver a new set of server operating systems--already twice delayed--by the end of this year. But by then, will customers need them?

LAS VEGAS--Microsoft executives on Thursday confirmed plans to deliver a new set of server operating systems--already twice delayed--by the end of this year.

Microsoft's family of upgraded Windows 2000 server operating systems--called Windows .Net Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter--are in testing with customers. The company plans to have release candidates, or near-final versions, of the software in the pipeline sometime this summer, according to Bob O'Brien, a group product manager at the software company.

The release of the server software is expected to be key as the company increasingly bets its future on its .Net software strategy and the Internet in general.

Delivery of the latest upgrade to the Windows servers has been the subject of confusion in recent months. Microsoft in March delayed release of .Net Server for a second time.

On Thursday, however, company executives in attendance at the NetWorld+Interop networking conference here were confident about the new release dates and the notion that Windows servers can now handle large data-crunching tasks. They trumpeted the acquisitions of large customers, including JetBlue Airways, Barclays and Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina.

.Net is an overarching strategy at the Redmond, Wash.-based company to turn its sprawling software franchise into a vehicle for Web services, a trend that allows companies to more easily conduct business over the Web.

Rather than housing all of its features in a monolithic software application, Microsoft is trying to ready its server software as more developers of Web-based programs build software that connects to various functions across the Internet.

Microsoft competes against various versions of the Unix operating system sold by Sun Microsystems and IBM, as well as against Novell's NetWare servers and Linux. Once thought of as inappropriate for larger computing tasks, Windows has been gaining market share against competitors, even in a tepid tech economy, according to recent analyst surveys.

"I don't think Microsoft is that far out of the game anymore," said Dwight Davis, an analyst with industry consultancy Summit Strategies. "The weaknesses (in the OS) aren't deal-breakers anymore."

The .Net server upgrade will include support for software developers building Web applications. It also will include improved Internet Information Server (IIS) software that can partition Web processing so a Web site won't go down as frequently, according to the company.

Also included will be updates to Active Directory, the company's directory services software that serves as a sort of white pages of computer users and resources. The directory technology builds on Microsoft's recent release of Visual Studio.Net, a set of programming tools for software developers building Web services.

O'Brien said an initial target for the .Net servers will be customers who are running windows NT 4.0 and did not upgrade to Windows 2000 server software.

Less certain is how necessary a .Net server will be for those who believe in the Web services trend, according to analysts, given that Microsoft customers are building Web services on the company's current technology. The upgrade could feed the perception that Microsoft has yet to define just what .Net means internally and for customers.

"I think Microsoft has a real problem ahead of itself explaining what (the upgrade) means," Davis said. "What difference does it make to have the .Net framework built in? I don't know, frankly."

The .Net Framework, included with Windows .Net Server, is a crucial piece of the .Net strategy. Because the .Net Framework includes prewritten code, it can save Windows developers time, simplify a confusing array of programming interfaces, and eliminate common bugs, analysts said. It also includes the Common Language Runtime, which will allow software developers to use many types of programming languages to write Windows applications.