Microsoft will release the feature-complete, third beta for Windows Server "Longhorn" on April 25, which is also the first public beta of the software.
The product remains on track for release to manufacturing in the second half of 2007, and the beta code can be downloaded here.
Some 10,000 people in Microsofts technical beta program have already tested the product, while thousands more downloaded or received the second beta and the Community Technology Preview that followed through their TechNet and MSDN subscriptions, Helene Love Snell, the senior product manager for Windows Server, told eWEEK.
"We will be distributing beta 3 as broadly as possible to ensure the maximum number of IT professionals, developers and partners test and evaluate the new features. Our distribution programs will offer this chance to literally hundreds of thousands of people," she said.
Windows Server "Longhorn" builds on the improved reliability and security of Windows Server 2003 R2, and brings with it the ability to simplify administration tasks via improved event logging, task scheduling, enhanced remote management and the scripting capabilities of Windows PowerShell, she said.
Some of the new or improved features in beta 3 include a server manager console that now has additional remote administration tools to provide a more integrated management environment and Windows Firewall with Advanced Security, now on by default, to provide a persistent and more secure environment beginning at install, she said.
Also in the beta is Active Directory Federation Services improvements, which let customers implement new policies and make it easier to set up a relationship between trusted partners, and the Server Core installation option, which now comes with additional roles and enhanced functionality, such as print services and Active Directory Lightweight Services.
"The new Server Core installation option is a minimal installation of Windows Server Longhorn available with the standard, enterprise and datacenter editions. All of the core kernel components and subsystems are present, such as networking, file I/O and security, but the graphical user interface and graphical utilities such as the server manager, Microsoft Management Console and Internet Explorer are not," Snell said.
This provides a reduced server footprint and potential attack surface, which should result in less maintenance and greater security and reliability, she said, adding that a Server Core installation can still be managed remotely using traditional Microsoft and third-party tools, while local administration can be done through command line utilities, she said.
Some customers, such as Juergen Otter, the senior Active Directory architect at Siemens AG, are pleased with the enhancements. "We are very excited about beta 3. We love the new features in Active Directory and the improvements to Terminal Server," he said.
The product also includes a range of security enhancements, including reducing the server footprint and potential attack surface with the new Server Core installation option, while features like Microsoft Network Access Protection, Read-Only Domain Controllers and the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security help monitor system health.
IIS (Internet Information Services) 7.0, the newest version of Microsofts Web server, also provides a more secure, extensible platform for efficiently managing and reliably hosting Web applications and services, Snell said.
Customers now will be able to host Web applications and .NET 3.0 Web services on Windows Server "Longhorn" beta 3 in live production environments, using the new IIS7 Go Live license.
"The IIS7 Go Live license limits the live production use of Windows Server "Longhorn" beta 3 to Web workloads only requiring IIS7, including Windows SharePoint Services. The IIS7 Go Live License lets organizations push IIS7 into their production Web serving environments, while enabling Web developers to Go Live with their Web sites and applications on free hosted offers," she said.
Five hosters, MaximumASP, DiscountASP.net, Applied Innovations, Hostmysite.com and Web Fusion, are already using the IIS7 Go Live license to offer Free IIS7 beta hosting to attract bleeding-edge developers to their sites, while another three—CrystalTech, Mosso and Affinity—plan to have offers up within the next two weeks.
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