Microsoft on Wednesday laid out its server road map, outlining a series of releases including Longhorn Server, the next major edition of its operating system, targeted to arrive in 2007.
Among the features of Longhorn Server will be support for Indigo, Microsoft's new Web services architecture, as well as improved manageability and support for dynamic partitioning and other features designed to enable Windows "mainframes," said Bob Muglia, the senior vice president in charge of Windows Server development.
Plans for Longhorn Server had been an on-again, off-again proposition for some time. Since late last year, the company has said there would be a server version, but until now it's said little about what that version would contain. The new timetable is Microsoft's attempt to clarify its plans for corporate buyers. "Our expectation is that we will ship Longhorn Server in 2007," Muglia said.
Microsoft plans to launch the first beta-test release of the server version of Longhorn in the first half of next year. A second test release will come in 2006, Muglia said.
Muglia also said Microsoft has already slated both a service pack and an update for Longhorn. "We are thinking about an update release to Longhorn that will come in the 2009 time frame; 2008 will probably be the service pack; 2009 will be the update release."
In Microsoft parlance, a service pack is a bug-fix release that's free to customers. An update is typically a more extensive refresh of Windows that Microsoft sells. "It's effectively a new release of the server," Muglia said. He said customers under Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing program will receive the update at no additional cost.
Muglia said the company is moving to a system in which it plans major server releases every four years, along with updates every two years.
The software maker said last week that the client and server versions of Longhorn are being developed in parallel but added later that the additional testing needed for server software would cause that version to lag behind its desktop counterpart. Microsoft has a goal of shipping Longhorn desktop by mid-2006.
"It just takes longer for servers to bake," said Muglia. "It takes at least six months, upwards of 12 months, longer to release a server than a client."
Microsoft also outlined more details on updates to Windows Server 2003, the current release of the company's server operating system.
Later this year, Microsoft will release the first service pack for Windows Server 2003, which will introduce reliability and security improvements, as well as support for 64-bit applications. "The service pack this year is a little more than a (standard) server pack, because it includes 64-bit support," said Muglia. "The addition of 64-bit is a very substantive change."
An update to Windows Server, code-named R2 and due next year, will add additional features, Muglia said. As earlier reported, the update will include new security technology designed to quarantine new machines as they come onto a network. The update will also include a cross-company identity management scheme, previously code-named Trustbridge. Built-in Windows Rights Management Services are designed to offer e-mail and document-level protection.
A second service pack for Windows Server 2003 is expected in 2006, according to Microsoft.
Many Microsoft customers have been reluctant to update their server installations and have remained on Windows NT 4.0, which is now more than eight years old. Muglia said he expects many of those customers to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 this year and that about 20 percent of the overall Windows Server installed base would probably remain on Windows NT 4.0 by year's end.
Microsoft's overarching strategies, such as the Trustworthy Computing Initiative, intended to improve the security and reliability of Windows, and the Dynamic Systems Initiative, which is an overall systems management strategy, figure large in Microsoft's future plans for Windows Server, Muglia said.
"Things we hear consistently from IT are, 'allow me to get a competitive advantage, and drive costs down,'" Muglia said.