Labs Has Its First Look at Longhorn Server

Review: Tests show inside-out improvement to the next-generation windows platform

eWeek labs recently tested Longhorn Server builds 5381 and 5384—our first look at the server operating system—and we were impressed by the way that Microsofts forthcoming refresh has progressed, inside and out.

Superficially, Longhorn Server expands on the ease-of-configuration strengths of Windows Server 2003. Under the hood, Longhorn Server sports a new TCP/IP stack along with performance and functionality improvements in most of the products core server roles.

Longhorn Server is slated to ship some time after the release of Vista, the client half of Microsofts upcoming Windows refresh (see review, right). However, we expect that many organizations will end up upgrading to Longhorn Server before making a move to Vista. Windows server upgrades will involve touching fewer machines and will stand to deliver more value per upgraded box than will the client upgrades.

We recommend that sites running Windows 2000 Server—and, perhaps to a lesser extent, sites running Windows Server 2003—begin evaluating Longhorn Server as soon as theyre able to get their hands on a build. Windows Server Longhorn Beta 2 will be accessible to MSDN and TechNet subscribers; when Beta 3 comes out, it will be available to anyone who wishes to download it.

Common Foundation

Longhorn server is based on the same code foundation as is Windows Vista, and we noted in Longhorn Server the same file manager, Internet Explorer and Control Panel tweaks that weve seen in test builds of Vista.

What Longhorn Server lacks are the new Aero Glass (the interface with three-dimensional effects) and Aero (the interface sans 3-D) options of its desktop-oriented sibling. Longhorn Server takes on, instead, the classic blue-and-gray appearance of Windows 2000. This wasnt a problem for us during tests—in fact, with all the eye candy stowed away, we found Longhorn Server to be a faster and more predictable performer than Vista has been so far in tests.

Server Manager

The most immediately recognizable new feature of Longhorn Server is the Server Manager. Built on Vista/Longhorns new MMC (Microsoft Management Console) Version 3, the Server Manager is an outgrowth of the "configure my server" dialog that launches by default on Windows Server 2003 machines. However, rather than serve only as a starting point to configuring new roles, Longhorns Server Manager gathers pretty much all the operations youd want to conduct on the server.

We did use the Server Manager to add new roles, such as Terminal Server or IIS (Internet Information Services) Web server roles, to our test machines. Unlike with Windows Server 2003, however, we could opt to install multiple roles at once. We could also use the Server Manager to install new features, such as Windows load balancing or failover capabilities. In addition, theres an option for installing a "desktop experience" component, which installs Vista-specific pieces such as a theme engine and Windows Media Player.

For roles wed already installed, the Server Manager presented us with control panels containing all the pertinent action and information related to those roles. We could see right away, for instance, whether the services comprising these roles were running; we could also start, stop and restart these services, as well as check for event viewer items related to our installed roles.

We were particularly impressed with Longhorn Servers beefed-up diagnostic facilities, with which we could track system faults such as crashed applications and unplanned restarts. We could also monitor detailed, customizable performance graphs. (These same diagnostic facilities are present in Vista, too.)

We found especially refreshing the Task Manager-type views, which offer a good deal of useful information—even going so far as to identify exactly what all the "svchost" processes were doing. We couldnt, however, kill processes and tweak process priority from this improved diagnostic interface, and the original, data-miserly Task Manager is still present and accessible.

We had the option of installing Longhorn Server in standard or core versions. The core option installs a limited set of services—DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol), DNS (Domain Name System), file server and domain controller components. We couldnt install other, arbitrary applications atop Longhorn Core, nor could we come up with other service combinations for a core installation.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at