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Microsoft Gives Top 10 Reasons To Upgrade To Longhorn

Among the points in Microsoft's sales pitch: security, improved networking, and expanded support for Linux and Unix.

The next-generation Windows server, code-named Longhorn, is more than a year away from shipping. But at Tech Ed 2006, that didn't stop Microsoft from citing the top 10 reasons customers should upgrade.

In a briefing at the Boston conference Wednesday, Microsoft listed 10 new features and enhancements in the upcoming Windows server that will most benefit end users and the solution providers that serve them. They are the following:

1. Enhanced security through improved Group Policy and BitLocker
2. Network Access Protection
3. New Terminal Services capabilities
4. A new networking stack
5. Enhancements to Directory Services
6. New Server Core feature
7. Expanded Unix/Linux support
8. Enhanced performance monitoring
9. An enhanced Internet Information Server (IIS), version 7.0
10. Enhanced management features and new Server Manager tool

Many of the features are in Longhorn Beta 2, which was made available to developers and IT professionals last month, but the code is not yet feature-complete, according to Ward Ralston, senior technology product manager of Microsoft's Windows Server Division. Longhorn Beta 3--the first public beta, also called a Community Technology Preview, is scheduled for release in early 2007, with broad availability slated for the second half of 2007.

During the briefing, Microsoft highlighted the key benefits of the 10 new and enhanced features in Longhorn.

On the security front, improvements to the Group Policy feature will give partners and administrators more granularity over access, including the ability to manage or block certain devices, such as USB flash cards, from accessing server data, Ralston said. BitLocker is more useful for laptops and mobile PCs, but customers also can use it to secure servers at branch offices that might fall into the wrong hands, he added.

One of Longhorn's most-heralded new features, Network Access Protection (NAP), will ensure that PCs and devices are healthy and up-to-date before they're cleared for connecting into the network. Microsoft said NAP will support a variety of protocols, including DHCP, VPNs from Microsoft and third-party ISVs, 802.1X wireless networks and IPSec devices. This ensures that NAP is compatible with a full array of routers and other security products and appliances, said Nuo Yan, a Microsoft MVP employed at the University of Washington who participated in the briefing.

Ralston was particularly enthusiastic about major enhancements to the Terminal Services capabilities of Longhorn, including a new Remote Programs feature and Terminal Services gateway that will give customers Citrix-style application publishing and access out of the box. The feature will offer central application access, application deployment, application virtualization, improved support for branch offices and "secure anywhere access," he said. The application virtualization capability is being enabled through Microsoft's recent acquisition of Softricity and its SoftGrid software.

Microsoft demonstrated the Vista user interface with the new Remote Programs icon and its ability to automatically detect the Terminal Services gateway, as well as an icon on the connection bar at the top of the screen that shows the use of SSL. By tunneling RDP 5.0 over HTTPS and using the gateway to strip off the HTTPS and redirect the session to the appropriate back end, Vista can be used as a full-featured thin client, Ralston said.

Solution providers and customers, he added, will have great flexibility when deciding which applications to publish for remote access. Microsoft is providing a Terminal Services remote programs applet that takes inventory of everything on a computer and allows users to quickly create packages to deploy it.

"You have the ability on a per-user basis to say what program you want to run when a user connects," Ralston said. "We're allowing the RDP 6.0 client to determine which program you want to run on the server so you can deploy apps."

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