Early Reports: Windows Server 2003 Stable -- But Hardly Revolutionary

By Dan Orzech

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Microsoft's delays in releasing the successor to Windows 2000 appear to have paid off with an operating system that is ready for prime-time use in its first incarnation.

That's the verdict from those who are familiar with the release.

"Windows Server 2003 is coming out of the chute ready," says Doug Field, director of e solutions infrastructure at systems integrator Getronics. "Microsoft has really taken it to heart that people are not going to wait for service pack one."

Getronics, which has some 2,000 Microsoft-trained consultants worldwide, has already helped two large clients perform system-wide Windows Server 2003 installations.

After talking to a number of his company's clients, Gartner Research vice-president Thomas Bittman has reached the same conclusion.

"We expect Windows Server 2003 stability to be a non-issue," he says. "It's a rock-solid release."

Windows Server 2003, at the time known as Windows .NET Server, was originally scheduled for release in 2001. The company delayed its release until this April to conduct a $200 million, line-by-line security audit of its code, as part of its Trustworthy Computing Initiative.

That effort undoubtedly helped create a more stable release. So, most likely, did the fact that the operating system is not a radical change from Microsofts previous server release, Windows 2000.

"There are definitely enhancements in Windows Server 2003," says Bittman, but theyre largely incremental changes from Windows 2000. It's not the revolutionary change we saw between Windows NT and Windows 2000. We view it more as a point release."

Windows Server 2003 does offer some "fundamentally new" technology, according to Bittman, such as a new version of Microsoft's Active Directory, which make it easier to use and reduce bandwidth requirements.

It also includes Microsoft's .NET Web infrastructure environment, which has now been fully integrated into the operating system, as well as improvements to the IIS Web server. IIS security has been improved, says Bittman, and the Web server can now host multiple sessions on one server.

While Gartner has not heard complaints from early users about stability, it is still suggesting that companies planning on using new, or re-written parts of the release, such as Active Directory or IIS, wait three to six months before upgrading, to make sure no major bugs emerge.

The end of NT?
So far, Getronics has found the upgrade to Windows Server 2003 to be a trouble-free process, according to Field.

The systems integrator helped one client, a global banking concern, upgrade 240 offices, with some 10,000 users, in two weeks.

The upgrade, from Windows NT version 4, was seamless, says Field.

That doesn't mean you should undertake an upgrade without any preparation, however. The client spent a solid six months preparing for the upgrade, and testing and re-testing its applications on the new operating system.

The bank undertook the upgrade partially to take advantage of some of the new technology in Windows Server 2003, particularly around email, says Field.

Even more of a consideration, however, was the rapidly-approaching end of life date for Windows NT. Microsoft has said that it will not support Windows NT past the end of this year.

A lot of companies are keeping their eyes on that date, says Field.

Windows NT still makes up around two-thirds of the installed base of Windows servers, according to Gartner's Bittman.

Those users are not providing the revenue Microsoft hopes to realize from its installed base, says Bittman, so Redmond is pushing hard to upgrade them to Windows Server 2003

"Microsoft's major target [with Windows Server 2003] isnt getting people to move from Unix or Windows 2000, it's getting their NT base to move," he says.

Gartner expects about 75% of Windows Server 2003 installs to be upgrades from Windows NT.

"We're telling our NT clients that this is the target they should shoot for," says Bittman.