Microsoft said on Monday that the server version of Windows 7 will not be a major release and will bear the name Windows Server 2008 R2.
The move is surprising, given that in the past, Microsoft has used R2 monikers to signify a product with a few new features, as opposed to major changes to a product.
Microsoft declined to discuss what will be in Windows Server 2008 R2, but a spokesman confirmed that it is the server version of Windows 7. The release is due sometime in 2010, Microsoft said.
The server move calls into question just how different Windows 7 is going to be from Windows Vista on the desktop side. Steven Sinofsky, the head of development for the desktop version of Windows, has said that Windows 7 on the PC side would not make major changes to things like the kernel and driver model, but has maintained that it would be a major release of Windows.
Microsoft has said that the desktop version of Windows 7 would include a new multitouch interface, but has not talked about other features.
The software maker confirmed its naming plans, following a report by ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley. Initially Foley reported that Microsoft was skipping its minor R2 release and moving straight to its next major release. However, Microsoft clarified that it indeed sees Windows 7 on the server side as a minor release.
On its server roadmap page, Microsoft describes its minor, or update releases this way:
Update releases integrate the previous major release with the latest service pack, selected feature packs, and new functionality. Because an update release is based on the previous major release, customers can incorporate it into their environment without any additional testing beyond what would be required for a typical service pack. Any additional functionality provided by an update would be optional and thus not affect application compatibility or require customers to recertify or retest applications.
The question is, if Windows 7 Server needs no more testing than a service pack, is it really possible for the desktop team to add enough features on top of it to make Windows 7 a big improvement upon the oft-criticized Windows Vista.
If you are having trouble reconciling Microsoft's server and client positions, you are not alone. I pressed Microsoft's server side for more details on how this could be understood, but didn't get much help. I'll also check in with some folks on the desktop Windows team and see what I hear back.
Microsoft has said it will share technical details on Windows 7 at its Professional Developers Conference in late October in Los Angeles.