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.NET Server 2003 full of 'nice reasons to upgrade'

There may be no breathtaking improvements in Microsoft's upcoming .NET Server 2003 operating system, but one expert who spoke at Comdex this week says there are still a lot of "really nice reasons to upgrade."

LAS VEGAS -- Even though Microsoft has applied its misunderstood .NET moniker to the next edition of its server operating system, one expert said that .NET Server 2003 is still worthy of consideration, especially for companies that have fallen behind the upgrade curve.

Mark Minasi, an independent author and columnist who has been critical of Microsoft in the past, told a lively group of several hundred attendees at Comdex Fall 2002 that there will be no new life-altering features in .NET Server when it is released next spring but that there are a lot of "really nice reasons to upgrade."

Minasi said .NET is essentially a new set of programming tools that "make life easier for developers." However, he said, Microsoft has confused its customers by adopting .NET as a marketing slogan for virtually all of its product lines. He even joked that "you're going to see a Flight Simulator .NET pretty soon."

Yet users should feel comfortable upgrading to .NET Server, Minasi said, first and foremost because Microsoft has vowed not to release the follow-up OS, code-named "Blackcomb," for several years.

"If you go to .NET Server, you won't have to look over your shoulder again until at least 2006, maybe 2007," Minasi said. He added that Microsoft hopes to reproduce the success it had with Windows NT 4, which was the company's top of the line server OS for four years and which, as a result, became widely used.

Microsoft originally had intended to release an update to .NET Server code-named "Longhorn" in just two years, but the company recently decided that this version would be a workstation-only edition when it is released in 2005.

.NET Server also reaps the benefits of Microsoft's "Trustworthy Computing" initiative, which is the wide-ranging strategy that the software giant began approximately one year ago with the intent of improving security and reliability across the board in its software.

Minasi said it is now significantly more difficult for hackers to tamper with the OS, and wireless security has been improved as well. Instead of using wireless encryption protocol to secure the network's wireless access points, secure wireless access is now tied to Active Directory.

However, to take advantage of the better wireless security and a number of other enhancements, Minasi said a company must upgrade its clients to Windows XP.

"If you're thinking about moving from Windows 98, go straight to XP," Minasi said, "because it will pay for itself in fewer lockups and easier administration."

Below are a few additional highlights that Minasi mentioned regarding .NET Server:

-- A new feature called Netstat helps administrators tell the difference between a hacker and an end user sending messages with MSN Messenger. It does so by providing information on which program started each TCP/IP conversation, the port used, and the IP address of the device on the other side of the firewall.

-- A new command called netsh can be used to clean up the IP stack or help build it from the ground up.

-- Command line programming capability is vastly improved. According to Minasi, approximately 99% of the administrator tasks in .NET Server can be performed using the command line, including tedious tasks like creating hundreds of new users at once, a task that previously could only be done using the GUI.

-- There are a number of improvements coming to Active Directory, highlighted by several new native modes that enhance the functionality of a forest, which is Microsoft's term for a cluster of user groups that all trust one another by default. Other AD fixes include domain renaming, better simultaneous group membership editing and schema modifications in the global catalog.


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