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Microsoft 2003: Upgrades To Windows, Office, And Enterprise Servers

Software powerhouse also faces looming threat of more antitrust litigation.
The year ahead for Microsoft contains major upgrades to Windows, Office, and enterprise servers, and the looming threat of continued antitrust litigation.

Microsoft on Tuesday issued a statement outlining its plans for 2003, saying the year will see the "most bountiful crop yet" of software for its .Net Web-services strategy, connecting enterprise applications using XML standards. Next year will see the release of Windows .Net Server 2003, Office 11, the Visual Studio .Net development toolkit, and application servers.

Not mentioned in the statement but looming large on the horizon: Microsoft also will be fighting private antitrust lawsuits from Be Inc., Sun Microsystems, and AOL Time Warner, which owns Netscape Communications, as well as appeals from Massachusetts and West Virginia of the settlement of the antitrust lawsuit brought by federal and state governments and the District of Columbia. The European Union is pursuing its own antitrust investigation. And Microsoft will also be operating under the direction of two oversight committees put in place as a result of the settlement of the U.S. government's antitrust lawsuits.

Microsoft plans to launch Windows .Net Server 2003 in April, including the .Net Framework, which integrates the functionality required to run Web-services applications. The server also includes simplified management of Active Directory, enhanced backup and disaster recovery, and Internet Information Server 6.0, which has a process model that greatly improves reliability and performance.

".Net Server is an incredibly major release," said Rob Enderle, analyst with Giga Information Group. In addition to .Net tools, the server operating system will include functionality for managing multimedia streaming, and closer ties to Windows XP on the desktop.

Windows .Net Server 2003 will be the last major server release prior to 2007. Just about the only thing known about the 2007 server release is a code name: Blackcomb.

Prior to Blackcomb, in 2004, Microsoft plans to introduce Longhorn, a desktop operating system which Enderle described as Microsoft's most significant operating system announcement ever. Unlike Windows .Net Server, Windows 2000, and Windows XP, which are all based on Windows NT, Longhorn rewrites every portion of the operating system. The operating system includes security integrated with hardware, including technology code-named Palladium, and increased reliability due to automated testing. The operating system will require new hardware that doesn't yet exist.

"It will have a higher standard of security than anything on the market when it ships," Enderle said.

Microsoft will launch the latest version of its development environment, Visual Studio .Net 2003, next year. The software is designed to deliver enhanced reliability, stability, security, and performance, along with functionality for enterprise, professional, and mobile developers.

Office 11 will have advanced XML support to use the applications as a front end for sharing data across mixed systems, platforms, and applications. Customers will be able to save any Word document, Excel spreadsheet, Visio diagram, or data from an Access database, in XML. Users will be able to structure data created in Office by applying specific data models, or schemas.

Office 11 will include an application code-named Docks, scheduled for release in mid-2003, designed to streamline information gathering by letting users easily create and work with dynamic forms. To users, Docks will look like a traditional word-processing program, but it's designed to be the user interface for collecting or retrieving business information.

More interesting than what Office 11 does is what it doesn't do: crash a lot, Enderle said. Outlook 11 includes stability enhancements to eliminate the bug called Outlook Brain Freeze, which causes the software to lock up when it experiences troubles with a network connection; those lockups can freeze the entire systems on Windows ME and earlier versions.

The company also plans new instant messaging tools. MSN Messenger Connect, scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2003, will allow IT mangers to log and audit all instant messaging conversations on the SQL Server 2000 database. Later in 2003, Microsoft plans a real-time communications platform, code-named Greenwich, integrating voice, data collaboration, and presence information.

The next version of Microsoft Exchange Server, code-named Titanium and scheduled for release in mid-year, is designed to lower total cost of ownership and broaden mobile access. The software will integrate with the Outlook 11 client, and will enable businesses to consolidate E-mail traffic on fewer servers. The software supports micro-browsers for mobile device access. The software also will include stronger anti-spam capabilities and will support up to eight-node clustering.

Microsoft plans to release the first phase of the server code-named Jupiter in the second half of 2003, integrating Microsoft BizTalk Server, Microsoft Commerce Server, and Microsoft Content Management Server.

The company plans SQL Server Enterprise Edition, a 64-bit version of the database, in conjunction with the launch of Windows .Net Server in April. It supports greater single-system scalability than previous versions and is able to support applications that are very memory-intensive, such as large-scale E-commerce, data warehousing, and analytical applications.

Microsoft plans in mid-2003 to release the next version of SharePoint Team Services workgroup collaboration and information-sharing tool, featuring tighter integration with Office 11. For instance, users will be able to use SharePoint and Office to edit a document simultaneously and receive real-time notices of changes, with access to shared task lists, calendars, and discussion groups.

The only possible big problems for Microsoft next year are the various antitrust litigations, Enderle said.

"Their legal trials are clearly not over," he said. "But there are no major competitors that we see next year."

For all Microsoft's attempts to quash Linux, the open-source operating system doesn't seem to be hurting Microsoft, Enderle said. Instead, Linux is stealing market share from Unix.

"Linux is taking the heart of Unix but taking no bites out of Windows," Enderle said. "Microsoft remains, for the time being, untouched."