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Microsoft advances server plans

Developers got a CTP build of Longhorn Server with some goodies inside this week, but not much new on the feature front for IT pros.

Microsoft released an updated build of its next generation server software to developers this week that includes a new version of Microsoft's Web server.

Developers received the latest Community Technical Preview (CTP) at the Professional Developers Conference 2005 in Los Angeles this week, along with Internet Information Services 7.0. Microsoft also said it added a new security service to Active Directory.

For the most part, however, there were few fresh details about the server product from an administrator's standpoint, not surprising given the conference's emphasis on getting developers on board with new versions of Windows Vista and Office 12.

The message on Longhorn Server at this point is that Microsoft is focusing on fundamentals, on "server-wide health" and how to manage the server and services on top of that, according to Michael Stephenson, director of product management for identity and access management in the Windows Server division.

Stephenson said Microsoft's intention at the PDC was to show developers that security and services are part of the foundation, and also to help them with the operational infrastructure. "It's a richer platform for building Web services," he said.

Some of Longhorn's notable capabilities include patching and restoring the server without shutting down, providing a caching and domain controller for branch offices, checking for security updates when a new server role is installed, as well as Unix interoperability and Network Access Protection. Microsoft is also adding Security Token Services, which broker trust between domains, to Active Directory.

It will be years before most IT professionals touch Longhorn Server, which isn't due to ship until 2007. Many experts said they weren't expecting to learn a lot about this server at PDC, and surmise there will be more information revealed as it gets closer to release.

"The real focus at this conference is on the client side and getting the developer community on board," said Steven Kleynhans, an analyst at Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn. "No question that when Longhorn Server comes out there will be a lot in the package."

Still, experts can't help but wonder what will cause companies to upgrade. Some of Longhorn Server's individual features are viewed as interesting but not necessarily compelling, at least at this point. Network Access Protection, which helps enforce security policy, is one feature that should appeal to large companies with a lot of visiting PCs on their networks. But will such capabilities be enough to drive migration?

"Windows 2000 had Active Directory and Windows Server had dramatic performance, scalability and reliability improvements," said Kent Smith, president of IPSO Inc., a Wayland, Mass., consulting firm. "Why do I care about this?"

On the other hand, not every Windows Server release has to be a blockbuster the size of Windows Server 2000, which was actually quite a disruptive upgrade for many business customers.

For most companies today, Smith added, "I'm not sure there are many features missing from the Windows environment that, if added to Longhorn; will cause people to say, 'I gotta have it.' "

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