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First public beta for Windows Longhorn Server arrives

Microsoft is touting better task automation and security features such as quarantine and read-only domain controller in Windows Longhorn Beta 3.

Windows Longhorn Server Beta 3 is now prime for downloading and public testing with Microsoft still expecting to get the final code to manufacturing by the end of this year.

"Our development team is on track to RTM Longhorn Server by the end of calendar year, and it's important to note that Beta 3 is fully intact," said Helene Love Snell, senior product manager with Microsoft's Windows Server group. "We haven't cut any features to make the beta date," she said.

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The followup to Windows Server 2003, Windows Longhorn already has some IT managers interested in testing new Active Directory and Terminal Services features, not to mention some long-awaited improvements made to quarantine features over earlier server versions.

Community Bancshares is set to be an early adopter, although the company said it has no immediate plans to swap out its existing setup once Windows Longhorn becomes available. It already completed a move to Exchange Server 2007 and Office 2007 in November.

"We're not going to replace every Windows Server 2003 R2 out of the gate with Longhorn, but we are going to investigate Longhorn for Terminal Services," said Jonathan White, president of community operations at Jackson, Miss.-based Community Bancshares, a holding company for a group of separately chartered community banks.

In particular, White said he is keen on using Terminal Services sessions in Windows Longhorn to share an application among users as compared with running multiple applications on the desktop.

For the company's branch offices, it will also probably use the Read-Only Domain Controller option in Windows Longhorn's Active Directory. "Supposedly now with [Longhorn] Active Directory there will also be fewer reboots because you don't have to reboot the server to restart Active Directory when you patch," White said.

Network Access Protection offers improved quarantine capability

The real stand-out feature, however, will be Network Access Protection (NAP), a completely revamped quarantine capability compared to Windows Server 2003's Network Account Quarantine Control (NACQ), said Windows expert Mark Minasi. NAP prevents any traveling or remote user from logging back onto the network -- and possibly spreading a virus or malware -- by quarantining and cleaning up the user's device.

"I have a friend who has a Ph.D. in physics who can't figure out NACQ," Minasi said. "It's a nightmare, but I'm told the new quarantine has nothing in common with NACQ. It's completely different. NAP could turn out to be a very important technology."

Windows shops will also have a minimum install option called Server Core for server roles including DHCP, file, AD and DNS. IT administrators can set the server as a file or print server only, for example, which locks down the server to prevent any other function on that server such as Web surfing, Snell said.

Server core is for a specific set of goals, a limited version for file servers, domain controllers, DHCP and DNS Servers, just the bare minimum tasks, according to Minasi who has tested Server Core in the Windows Longhorn community technology preview. "It's a nice first shot on Microsoft's part," he said.

PowerShell scripting language available in Windows Longhorn beta

Windows PowerShell, a command-line shell and scripting language now used in Exchange Server 2007 and System Center Operations Manager, is now available in the Windows Longhorn beta to automate systems management tasks as well.

As for security, the Windows Firewall is now on by default, although it can be modified. The latest version of Microsoft's enterprise public key infrastructure software and BitLocker encryption technology are also included in Beta 3.

Other notables in Windows Longhorn include the Server Manager, which centralizes server management under one Microsoft Management Console, as well as other management features such as the Group Policy Management Console.

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