Microsoft tackles two Windows betas at once

Initial test versions were released Wednesday for both Windows Vista and its operating system cousin, Longhorn Server. At this point, the server and client code are more like twins.

Not only is Microsoft's next-generation client, Windows Vista, entering its beta program today, but the server version, which is still code-named Longhorn Server, is also entering its first formal trial phase.

At this level, the server code is going to look pretty similar to the client code, but I wouldn't expect this kind of coincidence with subsequent releases.

Steve Kleynhans, Gartner VP

The objective of these long-awaited milestones is to allow OEMs, hardware vendors, system builders, independent software vendors and developers to test the core foundation and APIs, Microsoft said. The Windows Vista client software is expected to be available in late 2006. Longhorn Server is due out in 2007.

Microsoft said that the key innovations of Longhorn Server are policy-based networking, improved branch management and enhanced end-user collaboration.

"We weren't expecting it today, but certainly within a narrow window [of Windows Vista]," said Steve Kleynhans, a vice president at Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn. "But it's just Beta 1 and they need to get the code out for developers so they can play with the internals."

"At this level, the server code is going to look pretty similar to the client code, but I wouldn't expect this kind of coincidence with subsequent releases," he added.

Lots of changes between now and final release

The fact that the first betas for Windows Vista and Longhorn Server were released isn't as interesting as how the features in the betas will compare to the final release, one analyst said.

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Longhorn's lengthy security wish list

As is custom with Microsoft in early testing, the first betas for the Windows client and server are available only to a select group of testers. "Any screenshots that people may see, may or may not be what the final version of the software ends up looking like," said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm.

Corporate IT administrators are typically not involved in viewing and testing early beta software, although some follow the process from a distance. "I hadn't really thought about [Vista]," said Paul Edwards, a Windows administrator at PHH Corp., Mt. Laurel, N.J. "Actually, the only things that struck me are the things they had decided to omit. So to me it is sounding more like flash over substance."

For instance, Microsoft has decided that the WinFS file system, initially planned as part of Longhorn, will now be part of a future release.

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