Major Day of Windows Releases From Microsoft

Microsoft released several major updates for its Windows lineup today, including the first Release Candidate (RC) for Windows Server 2008 and the initial public beta for Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 1.

Ward Ralston, senior technical product manager for Windows Server, made the announcement earlier today in a blog posting. Almost as important as the availability of the RC is the fact that it includes the first public release of Windows Server Virtualization (WSV), Microsoft's completely new server virtualization tool.

"Not only does this milestone indicate that Windows Server 2008 is ready to march down the path to RTM....but it also is the first time WsV will be part of the code base and available to everyone," Ralston wrote.

"RTM" stands for "Release to Manufacturing," when the product is readied for shipping. It's usually a month or so from RTM to general availability.

Beta 1 of Vista SP1, Ralston said, will be made available to "12,000+ private beta testers."

Ralston announced that the RC could be downloaded as part of the customer technology preview (CTP) program, but as of 5:30 p.m. ET, it wasn't available. Only beta 3, the last preview version of Windows 2008, code-named Longhorn, was on the site.

Key features of Windows 2008 include:

  • Server roles. Server roles are reduced functionality versions of the full server, dedicated to specific tasks such as DNS management, Web serving through Internet Information Services (IIS), print services and so on. The smaller footprint means server core servers should be faster, lighter and less susceptible to security issues, given the reduced attack surface.
  • PowerShell. PowerShell is a command-line interface that allows an admin to script virtually any aspect of the environment. Scripting allows for greater scalability, more granular control and increases in speed.
  • Read-only domain controller (RODC). RODCs increase security by not allowing changes to its database, changes that could be replicated to the entire domain should an attacker gain access to it.

The other major improvement in Windows 2008, and one of the most anticipated, is WSV. WSV allows multiple operating systems to be run on a single server, which has a host of benefits for an enterprise shop. It's possibly the hottest technology in the industry today, as witnessed by the spectacular recent IPO offering of virtualization leader VMware.

Like Windows 2008, WSV, codenamed Viridian, has had its share of problems and delays. First, its beta release was pushed back from the first half of the year to the second half, which is happening today. And it would have likely slipped from today's RC release if a number of key features had not been stripped out several months ago.

Vista SP1, on the other hand, may have been delayed in large measure due to new features being added. Specifically, it will include desktop search functionality that opens it up to rival technologies, including Google. Google complained to the U.S. Justice Department that desktop search, which Microsoft dubbed "Instant Search," was anti-competitive because rival products didn't work well with Vista. Microsoft made a number of substantive changes in response to the charges, including giving OEMs and end users the ability to choose a different default desktop search program.

In addition to the Instant Search changes, SP1 includes enhancements to security, reliability, performance and compatibility. That last item has been a struggle, as numerous complaints have been registered about Vista's lack of compatibility with applications and hardware. It's been a reason that Vista hasn't seen the industry uptake Microsoft had hoped for.

Some of those upgrades were included in recently released "Vista Performance and Reliability Packs," which will be a part of SP1.

SP1 has been one of Microsoft's most mysterious products. Microsoft sent out mixed signals for months about its release, confusing the press and the public. Recent news reports had pegged a beta release as early as July, with a final release in November. Microsoft disavowed those reports, but refused to give any concrete information about the release.

Now, however, Vista and Windows 2008 appear to be marching in lockstep, with new releases happening at about the same time. Recently, Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, said that makes sense, since both products share the same codebase. Enderle commented that Microsoft doesn't want the codebases to get too out of step, with one set of code being further along than the other.

"From the standpoint of servers, Microsoft would rather have [Windows 2008] at [Vista] SP1 level when it ships," Enderle said in an earlier interview.

Windows Server 2008 is scheduled to be part of a "Launch Wave" of Windows Server products, a wave that's supposed to break onto shore next Feb. 27. It's more likely to be an ebb tide, though, as it's looking increasingly unlikely that any of the three products -- Windows 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 -- will be commercially available by that date.

At least, though, any doubt should be erased that Vista SP1 and Windows 2008 will, within the next six months, be available to the public.

About the Author

Keith Ward is editor of Virtualization Review magazine. You can contact Keith at [email protected].