November 18, 2002 8:28 AM PST

.Net Server: Three delays a charm?

Microsoft has for the third time delayed the launch of its Windows .Net Server 2003 high-end operating system.

During his Comdex keynote address on Sunday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates revealed that the company would launch Windows .Net Server 2003 in April, marking the third delay for the server counterpart to the company?s Windows XP operating system.

In October 2000, Microsoft said the product would ship in the second half of 2001. In April 2001, Microsoft pushed back delivery of the product, which is an essential component of the company's .Net Web services strategy, to early 2002. In March, the software giant again delayed delivery until the second half of 2002.

In July, Microsoft issued the first release candidate, or near-final test version, of the product. A second release candidate is due in a few weeks, Gates said. Until Gates? Comdex keynote, Microsoft representatives insisted that at the least the company would release final, or gold, code this year. That led analysts to speculate on a February launch, consistent with Microsoft's Windows 2000 release strategy.

Microsoft said Sunday that it plans to release four versions of Windows .Net Server 2003: Datacenter, for top-end machines with dozens of processors and high reliability requirements; Enterprise Server, for more mainstream multiprocessor servers; Standard Server, for low-end servers; and a new Web Server for low-end machines used to send Web pages to Internet browsers. The Redmond, Wash.-based company has not yet released pricing.

In one sense, the delay makes sense. Analysts expect .Net Server to take off slowly because so many businesses either recently moved to Windows 2000 or are in the process of doing so. For its part, Microsoft believes there is pent-up demand among the 15 percent or so of Windows Server operating system customers still running the older Windows NT version.

"There's not a major demand right now for the high-end Windows, so in that sense this delay isn't that big a deal," said Technology Business Research analyst Bob Sutherland. "If they had a lot more customers waiting for it, it would be a much bigger deal.

Even customers interested in .Net Server are likely to take their time migrating from older Windows versions.

"It usually takes a few major iterations while customers wait for the bugs to shake out before they move to a major, new operating system anyway," Sutherland said.

Tattered road map
The news comes less than a week after Microsoft scrapped delivery of Longhorn Server, which had been slated for late 2004 release. Windows .Net Server 2003's successor, code-named Blackcomb is not expected until 2005 or 2006. The two server release changes, in concert with a potential delay for Windows XP's successor--code-named Longhorn Desktop--indicate major tweaking to Microsoft's server road map.

Microsoft's OS plans had grown hazy over the last couple months, as the company rethought its strategy. At one point, Microsoft even considered scrapping both Longhorn releases and going straight to Blackcomb, sources familiar with the company's product strategy said. But such action would have created a huge gap between the release of Windows XP and its successor.

Even now, Microsoft is uncertain about Blackcomb and Longhorn release dates. A Microsoft representative last week said that the company could not give an estimated release date on Blackcomb. The company would "firm up a date" based "on customer response," she said.

Microsoft still plans to release Longhorn as the next desktop version of Windows desktop, but just when is uncertain.

"It's too early to tell when Longhorn is going to be released," the spokeswoman said.

Until now, Microsoft executives had emphatically insisted Longhorn would ship in 2004, with no update in between. Uncertainty about the ship date opens up the possibility Microsoft would be compelled by customers to release an interim update to Windows XP, particularly if Longhorn shipped in 2005.

"Microsoft would have this gigantic gap in between releases," Silver said. "It's a gap for people who bought Software Assurance," Microsoft's maintenance licensing plan for which customers pay ahead annually for upgrades.

But disengaging desktop and server OS development also could mean faster delivery of Longhorn. By freeing up resources to focus on the desktop version of Windows, Microsoft conceivably could dedicate more resources to development and push back some features to Blackcomb.

"Maybe 'too early to tell' means trying to take something out so they can deliver Longhorn sooner," Silver said.

But what features Microsoft might remove, if any, may not be known for months--as the company is still reviewing what conceivably could be delivered in a timely fashion. One much-touted feature, for example, would support new storage capabilities that are part of the next version of SQL Sever, code-named Yukon.

 

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