Microsoft Hones Windows Server

Windows Server 2003 is more secure and easier to manage; however, upgrade case can be tough to make.

Microsoft Corp.s main goal with is, as usual, to sell more copies of the operating system. Selling anything these days, however, is not a simple proposition.

eWEEK Labs tests show that Microsoft has taken some innovative technologies and wrapped them into a nice interface to a server operating system that is more secure, friendlier to developers, has better performance and can be better integrated into heterogeneous environments than previous versions. If none of this succeeds in selling the new server operating system, Microsofts decision to phase out support for Windows NT 4.0 next year will (the company hopes) spur part of the Windows population to upgrade.

The most obvious difference between Windows Server 2003 and Windows 2000 Server—Microsofts most popular server offering ever—is the formers GUI, which is nearly identical to that of Windows XP.

In fact, a cursory look at Windows Server 2003, launched Wednesday, leads one to believe its just Windows 2000 with a prettier face. Fortunately, the interface doesnt get in the way, and Microsoft has added useful wizards for managing everything from Active Directory migrations to creating trusted .Net components.

Under the covers, however, there are substantial changes.

First of all, the integration of .Net Framework, coupled with .Net configuration wizards, makes Windows Server 2003 an ideal development platform—but only for developers who are going with .Net. Microsoft also has expanded the operating systems Web services capabilities, allowing developers to wrap existing Windows applications into Web services objects that can run in the .Net environment.

As with earlier versions of Windows server operating systems, Windows Server 2003 includes a messaging server, a transaction coordinator and other technologies that more or less align with what application servers do on Unix platforms.

Overall, there are far fewer reasons to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 from Windows 2000 Server than from Windows NT 4.0. The main driver for upgrading from Windows 2000 Server will probably be Windows Server 2003s improved security features. However, IT administrators have spent so much time hardening Windows 2000 Server that they probably will not be compelled to start over again with a brand-new operating system.

Substantially more important are changes to Active Directory. The Microsoft directory is now easier to manage, but the changes to Active Directory will create some compatibility kinks. Windows Server 2003, for example, allows for cross-forest authentication and authorization, which lets users access resources from domains that they are not logged on to. eWEEK Labs sees this as a good way for users to access resources in a shared resource environment, but there will be difficulties in getting these capabilities to work in mixed-mode environments.

Another substantial change is that Microsoft ripped out Internet Information Services 5.0 and replaced it with the all-new IIS 6.0—a faster, more reliable and more secure version of the Microsoft Web server. IIS 6.0 is also better suited than its predecessor as a development platform target.

Lastly, Microsoft has included some excellent media serving capabilities with Windows Media Server 9. The bundle of media services, plus the application server stack, makes Windows Server 2003 a good buy—as long as organizations are committed to the entire stack.

Windows 2003 Server ships in three flavors: Standard Edition, which includes most of the features of the high-end versions but scales only to four processors with 4GB of RAM; Enterprise Edition, which includes 64-bit support and eight-processor capabilities and can address up to 32GB of RAM; and Datacenter Edition, which can support as many as 64 processors and includes Datacenter application capabilities.

Also available is a Web Edition, which is basically a file, print and Web server for single- and dual-processor systems.

Following, eWeek Labs analysts drill down into key areas of the server. —John Taschek