Microsoft has lots in store for Windows administrators next year in terms of server software, but the biggest launch event undoubtedly will be the release of .NET Server 2003, now scheduled for April. Today there is speculation about just how well received this release will be. Experts have said that the .NET Server 2003 release is an incremental upgrade. But in a soft economy in which cost cutting is essential, this may play in Microsoft's favor, said Dwight Davis, a vice president at Summit Strategies, a Boston consulting firm.
Chances are, if Microsoft were to release a server upgrade that's as radically different as Windows 2000 was from its predecessor, NT 4.0, it would drop like a stone, he said. "For those who are already on Windows 2000, a move to .NET Server 2003 may be more digestible," Davis said.
And for the many enterprises that still haven't upgraded to Windows 2000, there are some good reasons to consider skipping it entirely and moving right to .NET Server 2003 -- and not just because it's a beneficiary of Microsoft's "Trustworthy Computing" security initiative.
Peter Pawlak, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., said that he believes there are three areas of improvement within .NET Server 2003 that will entice customers to upgrade: Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0, enterprise storage support and significantly increased performance and scalability.
And organizations that haven't begun migrations to Active Directory will probably just wait for .NET Server 2003 because it improves upon Active Directory and its related tools, Pawlak said. One example of this is a feature called Schema Roll Back, which is helpful for administrators building interforest trusts. Today, if a customer makes a change to the Active Directory Schema, it's irreversible. That's not the case with .NET Server 2003, said Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at Networks Are Our Lives, a Hoboken, N.J., consulting firm that specializes in Active Directory installations.
The feature is helpful to customers who are building their first Active Directories without ever having lived with an Active Directory. "Of course, they will make mistakes," Marks said. "With Windows 2000 Active Directory, those mistakes are permanent."
Beyond the release of .NET Server 2003, Microsoft has on tap the next release of Exchange, code-named Titanium, plus SharePoint Team Services 2.0 and the real-time communications technology code-named Greenwich.
SharePoint customers have their own reasons to look forward to the new SharePoint release. "From what I understand, I will be able to more easily tie documents together," said Peter Osbourne, group manager for advanced technology at Dollar Rent-A-Car Systems Inc., Tulsa, Okla. "SharePoint is a great repository. The instant messenger is not tied in today, but with this next version, it will include the Groove [Networks Inc.] features."
Customers can also expect to see beta releases of Yukon, the new database technology, sometime in the first half of the year.
Several new Microsoft products will feature improvements to their mobile support. Microsoft will be building mobility features into the next release of Exchange, and the next release of Visual Studio .NET, code-named Everett, contains two features aimed at wireless mobile devices, particularly Pocket PCs. The ASP.NET Mobile Controls, formerly the Mobile Internet Toolkit, and the Smart Device Extensions, which include the .NET Compact Framework, will become available.
"This will give organizations the green light to begin building or even deploying applications targeting mobile devices," Pawlak said.
Pawlak predicted that in 2003, Microsoft may do more to make its Licensing 6.0 program and Software Assurance more attractive. "This could involve making extra products and services, most notably customer support services, free to companies that have purchased SA," he said.
Though Microsoft has a busy year planned, Directions on Microsoft has prepared a list of challenges that the company will face in 2003. They include the following:
Because Office XP did little to help Microsoft's bottom line, the company needs to make sure that the next version of Office will prompt customers to upgrade. The company also must prove that Software Assurance is worth the substantial premium.
The product must set a new standard for security and manageability.
The Linux community has made great gains. It's got a long way to go before it equals Windows, but the gap is narrowing.
The road maps today shift like the sands of Araby.