SAN FRANCISCO -- After two years of delays, Microsoft Thursday embarked on one of its most important software releases in its history.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant officially unveiled its Windows Server 2003 operating environment, corresponding developer tool Visual Studio .NET 2003, Microsoft Exchange 2003, and a 64-bit edition of SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (previously codenamed "Yukon'). The company is hoping the trio of products will establish a new standard in enterprise computing -- an area where it has traditionally lagged behind the more powerful but proprietary Unix infrastructure.
At the San Francisco launch party, CEO Steve Ballmer said the overall platform is a cornerstone of Microsoft's Internet-based .NET strategy and key to its entry into Web services (define).
"This is one of the most significant pieces that we've ever done and the most significant for IT professionals and data centers," CEO Steve Ballmer said at the San Francisco launch party. "It is not an incremental release, it is breakthrough in terms of what it will mean software developers and customers that want to collaborate and communicate."
The main launch event is being held in San Francisco with 150 regional launches taking place over the next few weeks throughout the world.
The release is significant primarily because of obvious threats posed by J2EE (define) and Linux, but Microsoft is also extending its support for the growing market of 64-bit microprocessor architectures. The hope is that the server software will leverage the dominance Microsoft has on the desktop and extend it to the back office in high-end supercomputers, clusters, mainframes and storage.
Packaged with a familiar Windows XP interface, Microsoft is pulling together many of its previous technologies as a replacement for its popular but outdated Windows NT 4.0 server operating system.
According to some industry estimates, between 35 and 45 percent of Windows server customers still run Windows NT 4.0, with the remainder running Windows 2000.
Ballmer said the overall platform is a cornerstone of Microsoft's Internet-based .NET strategy and key to its entry into Web services (define).
"The challenge isn't just with cost reduction the challenge is to do more with less," Ballmer said.
Industry watchers are keeping a close eye on the release considering Windows operating systems and the hardware packaged with them accounted for about 27 percent of server sales in 2002, according research firm Gartner. UNIX systems still hold about 40 percent of the market. Deutsche Bank Securities calls the launch "critically important at driving increased sales of ancillary servers, enterprise agreements and establishing Microsoft in the back office."
Microsoft is putting on a huge marketing effort around this launch, as Windows Server 2003 is the first major architectural upgrade since it introduced the Win32 platform more than 5 years ago. The company says it will spend as much as $250 million over the next year promoting Windows Server 2003 in print, television, Web and outdoor advertisements.
Many Versions to Choose From
Formally known as Windows .NET Server, the company is releasing four separate versions of the Windows Server 2003 platform:
- Web Edition - Web serving, Web hosting, E-Mail, Workgroup Functions
- Standard Edition - Enterprise Applications, Middleware, Larger Workgroups
- Enterprise Edition - Database, Large Enterprise Applications, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Scientific Computing and Modeling (SCM)
- Datacenter Edition - Largest Databases, Largest Enterprise Apps, Corporate ERP and SCM, Server Consolidation
Each edition comes in versions to support both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. For example, its Datacenter Edition supports up to 32-way SMP and 64GB of RAM (up to 512GB on the 64-bit architecture) and provides eight-node clustering and load balancing services as standard features, and on the 64-bit architecture it can support 64 processors.
The Visual Studio .NET 2003 comes in Professional, Enterprise Developer and Enterprise Architect versions.
Microsoft also announced new enhancements to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) including five new Developer Centers including Visual Studio and the .NET Framework, and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. A dialect of XML, RSS lets developers receive notifications when new content is available on MSDN instead of checking a series of Web sites every day for the latest information.
The company has also taken great pains to make the server software usable right out of the box. In the case of its Web Edition, the software can also be deployed as a streaming media server since it already has the latest Windows Media encoder included.
Available later this year will be Microsoft's SharePoint Services Portal. The company said the file-sharing platform uses a Web browser interface with embedded multi-media applications like instant messaging and Windows Media player to share documents and track conversation threads. The platform also features a "Shadow Copy" function that keeps recently deleted files in a place in between the Recycle Bin and oblivion.