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Microsoft sets date for Windows Server

March 12 is the release-to-manufacture date for the six new versions of the company's server OS, paving the way for April shipping dates in Britain and the United States.

The release-to-manufacture date for the seven flavors of Microsoft's latest server operating system means gold code should be just weeks away.

Microsoft has set March 12 as the release-to-manufacture date for the six new versions of its server operating system, paving the way for a U.K. shipping date of April 29. The U.S. launch date is set for April 24.

The six versions of Windows Server 2003, set to launch in April, will be followed by a seventh, called Windows Small Business Server 2003, due late summer, Mark Tennant, Microsoft's Windows servers product marketing manager, told ZDNet U.K.

Microsoft's revamping of its server operating system range, which lost the .Net moniker recently after several previous name changes, will form a concerted effort to muscle in on the Unix market.

Microsoft is also hoping that 2003 will be the version that will persuade companies still using Windows NT4 to finally upgrade. Support for Windows NT 4 was supposed to be canceled early this year, but pressure from customers forced Microsoft to reset the date to January 2005.

"We want to get to the NT4 base onto Windows Server 2003. Customers say it is the one thing they have been waiting for," said Tennant. "A lot of customers have been waiting for Exchange 2003." Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 is expected to be generally available in the summer.

April's operating system launch will see the Windows server technology split into more flavors than ever before, mirroring to some extent the range of Unix operating systems available--bolstered lately particularly in edge-of-network servers by the rise in popularity of Linux.

For the edge-of-network machines such as Web servers, Microsoft is to release Windows Server 2003 Web Edition, a cut-down operating system that shares some similarities with the embedded version of the operating system that is sold by Microsoft's OEM division to manufacturers building Web servers and appliances such as network-attached storage devices.

Windows Server 2003 Web Edition will be sold as a packaged product, and a new version of the embedded operating system will also launch for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).

The other new versions of Windows will be general-purpose server operating systems: Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition for departmental environments, Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition (replacing Advanced Server) for medium-size to large enterprises; and at the high end, Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition for heavy database work.

Microsoft will also launch 64-bit versions of the two high-end operating systems; Datacenter Edition 64-bit will be able to scale to 64-processor servers, as opposed to the 32-bit version which will, like the current Windows 2000 Datacenter Edition, be confined to 32-processor servers. "We've been working with Hewlett-Packard on its 64-way Superdome servers," said Tennant.

Current 32-processor versions of Windows 2000 Datacenter sell predominantly with the Unisys ES7000 server technology, and after an initial buzz of activity when the Datacenter launch saw companies such as Dell Computer, Compaq Computer and HP sign up to resell it, all three vendors eventually pulled out again.

"We have not shipped huge numbers of Windows 2000 Datacenter," Tennant said. "Unisys was the primary 32-way platform, but we sold eight-way (configurations) on Compaq and HP. In the U.S. we sold more eight-way versions, and 32-way versions tended to be more popular in the U.K."

Microsoft is running a rapid adoption program in the United Kingdom, and it plans to have 14 customers on hand for April's launch. "They'll all be well-known brands," said Tennant, "from a big organization in the city running Datacenter Server 64-bit with SQL Server 64-bit, to a small charity with a couple of Standard Server boxes."

Tennant said 70 percent of the development time that went into the Windows Server 2003 system was spent on simplifying, tweaking and improving security. "It is more of an evolution than a revolution," he said. For example, when Windows Server 2003 is installed, nonessential services will be switched off by default, unlike Windows 2000, which switches on the IIS Web server software by default even if the server is just used as a file and print server.

Tennant said the release-to-manufacture date of March 12 could still change "depending on feedback from partners and customers," but adding that this would be unlikely to change the public launch date.

ZDNet U.K.'s Matt Loney reported from London.