Delivery of Microsoft Corp's latest server operating system Windows .NET Server 2003 has slipped for a second time, as the company attempts to unify developers around its .NET strategy, writes Gavin Clarke.
During his Comdex Fall 2002 opening keynote speech this week, Microsoft's chairman and chief executive Bill Gates finally pinned an official date on the release of the elusive operating system: April 2003.
That date means, though, that Windows .NET Server 2003 has now slipped twice. The operating system was initially due "by the middle" of 2002 then "by the end" of 2002, according to Microsoft. The company traditionally positions new products in a general launch timeframe as development takes place.
Gates, speaking in Las Vegas, Nevada, did not give reasons for the delay although Windows division senior vice president Brian Valentine insisted Microsoft is now "in the final countdown". "It will be rock-solid," Valentine said of the operating system in a statement.
Windows .NET Server 2003 is important landmark for Microsoft, as it is the company's first attempt to lock-step developers using its Visual Studio.NET environment to build .NET services with a server operating system via the .NET Framework.
Sources have told ComputerWire that Microsoft is unhappy with the level of uptake of .NET and hopes the next version of Visual Studio.NET, codenamed Everett, will persuade more developers to upgrade.
Some 70% of organizations are believed to have not yet adopted .NET while analyst firm Gartner Group expects a close fight between .NET and Java for enterprise development. By 2005, .NET and Java will each command around 40% of the market according to Gartner.
As such Windows .NET Server 2003 will support the .NET Framework along with other features planned for Visual Studio.NET Everett, renamed by Microsoft yesterday Visual Studio.NET 2003.
The .NET Framework, introduced with Visual Studo.NET in February, is missing from Windows 2000, the company's most current server operating system family - Windows 2000 Desktop was last year superceded by Windows XP. The .NET Framework includes features such as Microsoft's Common Language Runtime (CLR).
Other Visual Studio.NET 2003 features are designed to improve developer's efficiency. The company claimed its implementation of C++ will be 98% compliant with official International Organization for Standardization's (ISO's) C++ standards. This will enable developers to use popular C++ community libraries such as Loki, Boost and Blitz.
Windows Forms will also be supported, allowing developers to drag-and-drop controls from a pallet without manual hand coding.
Visual Studio.NET 2003 will feature Smart Device Extensions allowing developers to build client-based applications for Windows CE .NET, PocketPC and Windows cell-phone-based devices inside the suite. Gates also announced at Comdex the release of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft's .NET Compact Framework, a cut-down version of the .NET Framework specifically for small devices.
An official release date for Windows .NET Server 2003 also brings Visual Studio.NET 2003 closer to delivery. Until now organizations have been left hanging as Microsoft said the suite is scheduled for the "first quarter" of 2003. Yesterday, Microsoft said the suite would launch jointly with the server in April. An exact launch date for both has yet to be provided.
Gates' announcement also means that an entire ecosystem of independent software developers (ISVs) can steam-ahead with Everett and Windows .NET Server 2003 editions of products. Their own product release plans had been put on hold until Microsoft had finalized details for release of the underlying suite and operating system.
The potential scale of Microsoft's success in driving Windows .NET Server 2003, among customers is less assured. Valentine said Microsoft is getting copies out to top customers and partners for final testing, with a second release candidate expected "in the next few weeks".
While uptake is expected, reduced IT spending and the unpopularity of Microsoft's recent licensing changes cloud the picture. The latter have seen customers evaluate alternatives to Microsoft products. On IT spending, the outlook is unclear with some financial analysts now predicting it will not be the second half of 2003 before confidence returns - an factor likely to impact sales of Windows .NET Server 2003 in the short term.
Economic realities aside, customers, press and analysts can expect an unashamed frenzy of hype from Microsoft over Windows .NET Server 2003 capabilities. Group vice president Jim Allchin, for example, wrongly predicted Windows XP would help revive the PC sector's fortunes late last year.
Windows .NET Server 2003 will ship with a UDDI registry and web services capabilities, through support for latest web services specifications WS-Security, WS-Routing and WS-Attachments.
The operating system will ship in four editions: Datacenter Edition, available in 32-bit and 64-bit editions for businesses, Microsoft said, running mission-critical applications; Enterprise Edition, for "high reliability, superior performance and business value"; Standard Edition, a general purpose server; and Web Edition for serving and hosting web pages.