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Windows Server 2003 R2 ships

Windows Server 2003 R2 is here. It's not a major release, but it offers a passel of new features and some security fixes. So, is it something you need now?

With just weeks left in 2005, Microsoft delivered to manufacturing the newest version of its server operating system, Windows Server 2003 R2.

The software is an interim release that is built on Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1. It includes a number of fixes and a variety of features and improvements, but it is not considered a major release in the way that Longhorn Server is expected to be when it ships in 2007.

At its release on Tuesday, there were no new features or surprises from Microsoft executives. Windows Server 2003 R2 is expected to become available within 60 days, according to Microsoft. Pricing will be the same as Windows Server 2003, and there is no cost for customers to upgrade their client-access licenses.


Customers need to evaluate Windows Server 2003 R2 and make sure that any new features it offers solves a problem they have, said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm. "If it doesn't solve a problem you have, you don't have to do anything with this release," Cherry said.

Among its features, R2 is offering Active Directory Federation Services, which helps IT administrators identify, authenticate and authorize users across organizations and platform boundaries.

John McGlinchey, an IT executive at a major consumer goods manufacturing company in New York, said he agrees that Windows shops need not leap to R2. But by making federation services available, for example, administrators will at least start to think about these technologies. "Somewhere down the line, people will be saying, well, why don't you have [federation services]," McGlinchey said.

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Jeff Price, senior director of Windows Server at Microsoft, said the nature of R2 releases is specific functional improvements versus a broad-based appeal. "If you look at the functional areas of innovation, they don't apply to all servers," Price said. "It's branch office, identity integration. But I don't think people will go from Windows Server 2003 to R2."

"We have Windows 2000 Server customers who need to make the decision [to go to R2 or wait for Longhorn Server]," he added.

Price said he believes that some of the improvements to file replication and data compression technology designed for branch offices will appeal to a large number of IT administrators. Microsoft estimates that as many as 20% of servers are installed in branches. He agreed that features like Active Directory Federation Services will take longer for most IT shops to digest.

During a webcast on Tuesday, Bob Muglia, senior vice president at Microsoft, emphasized Microsoft's desire to offer major operating system releases every four years and minor "R2" releases every two years.

Cherry said it's still not clear if Microsoft will make this a companywide policy or if this cycle of major and minor releases every four and two years applies only to the Windows Server team. "I'd really like to see them commit to this across the board," he said.

Microsoft has already released Virtual Server 2005 R2. The company also said Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 will go to manufacturing today.

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