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Mark Minasi: Some Longhorn features still not working

Network Access Protection (NAP) will be a big improvement in Windows Longhorn, but issues such as a missing SIS domain controller are raising questions, says the Windows guru.

Microsoft seems to be learning some lessons as it develops one operating system after another. The software company is expected to improve upon its quarantine capabilities in Windows Longhorn with Network Access Protection (NAP).
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But some big questions remain. It already looks as though Windows Longhorn may have some problems with Active Directory, and still missing are the Single Instance Store (SIS) domain controller along with some features in the domain name system (DNS) server, according to Windows guru Mark Minasi, who had been reviewing the most recent community technology preview. He said he is hopeful that Microsoft will address some of those irksome domain issues in the successor to Windows Vista, code-named Vienna.

Minasi talked with just prior to the release of Windows Longhorn Beta 3 about some of the stand-out features in the upcoming Windows Server and the gaps that still remain. What feature in Windows Longhorn is getting the attention of IT admins?

Mark Minasi: The theoretical Longhorn rock star is the quarantine stuff -- Network Access Protection [NAP].

NAP could turn out to be a very important technology [with] the ability to quarantine a laptop after someone has been out of the office for two weeks and make sure they aren't bringing back anything bad before they hook up to the network. At the IP level, though, I don't know if a lot of people are willing to adopt Microsoft. At that level, a lot of people tend to think of and go with Cisco. Personally I think NAP, a tool controlled by [Active Directory] and [Group Policy], makes good sense. Are there any Active Directory improvements that stand out?

Minasi: There are a lot of nice little things that indicate that the [Microsoft] AD team is listening to the people using this stuff.

With AD domain control [in Windows Server 2003] you have to run wizards and baby-sit it. It's possible to write a script to pre-answer the wizard questions, but it's a pain.

Now, you can run the wizard, answer a question, and on the last page there's a button to export the configuration, and it spits out script. It's clicking reflectivity, and anything reflective is good. If you have 30 branch offices with domain controllers, you don't have to be there to do all that clicking. You type one command in the DC Promo and the script is done. What's missing from Windows Longhorn at this point?

Minasi: Considering how close Beta 3 is, I'm concerned about the number of things not working yet. We haven't seen the new SIS domain controller yet, and I'm not going to completely uproot what I have in [Windows Server 2003] if I don't know if it's going to work quite well.

It's something that's desperately needed, and we're almost at Beta 3. I don't see it, which is kind of scary.

There's also a number of things in the DNS Server that haven't appeared yet. I haven't been able to find them [in the betas] -- things like the ability to name new records that makes it really easy to rename your domain. That would make life a lot easier for renamed companies. Do you think Microsoft will stick to the ship date for Windows Longhorn? The company has already said that the Viridian hypervisor beta will be late.

Minasi: The hypervisor is not part of Longhorn, but I'm fine with it being late considering what [Microsoft] is trying to do. [Microsoft is] going into a world where one company [already dominates the market]. VMware ESX owns it, and if it took [Microsoft] one-and-a-half years for Longhorn -- with [Windows Server Virtualization, code-named Viridian] shipping 180 days later -- it doesn't really matter.

You'll never hear me say they shouldn't ship late versus getting a crappy piece of software. It took Windows 2003 three years to ship, and the world kept spinning. I'd rather see them take the time to do it right. What is still being overlooked in Windows Longhorn?

Minasi: They are not addressing fundamental problems that are still in AD. It's foolish to have more than one domain in a forest. It's like being put back into a 1998 situation all over again, where you need 20 different domains and 20 different forests to talk to each other.

It's not a picnic. I'm hearing that's going to change. Nothing is happening now because Longhorn is about to ship, but I'm hopeful that with the [successor to Windows Vista code-named] Vienna we'll see some change. What have you heard about Viridian?

Minasi: I've heard that Viridian will be very PowerShell-aware, which is good news. The Exchange guys did a great job of 'PowerShellizing' Exchange. There are 15 ways to do things -- Group Policy, the command line. It's nice how you can bring up the Exchange GUI and click a button and use a PowerShell-type command line tool. You can write scripts and be an idiot. Are there some products in general that Microsoft should make part of the OS rather than separate?

Minasi: If you look at MOM, for example, you have to ask if a product like that should be in the server. Shareholders, of course, are going to say 'Hey, keep it as a separate product' because extra revenue is a good thing. But does it need to be a separate product? At what point should they keep something in the OS and not force people to go out and buy it separately? What do you think about Dell offering XP on new systems versus Vista only?

Minasi: Do you know of any companies that are gung-ho about migrating to Vista? Windows 95 had a GUI and networking built in and media features. That was all big, gotta have it, 'grab-you-by-the-throat' things. Does Vista have any of that? I don't think any [new] OS today has any of those 'grab-you-by-the-throat' features. I think people are saying 'Yeah it's nice. We'll get to it whenever.' Vista has better security and a lot of little nice things but not big ones.

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