Hidden Gem: Windows Server Roadmap

On occasion, Microsoft publishes a great white paper with little fanfare. That's the case with a document called the "Windows Server Product Roadmap," which the company published in mid-June. Anyone in charge of buying or influencing the purchase of Windows servers ought to print out a copy.

The five-page document details the new release cycle for Windows Server; defines the differences between major releases, update releases, service packs and service packs; discusses features of Windows Server 2003 "R2"; discusses features of Windows "Longhorn"; gives timetables for delivery; and lists all of the feature packs for Windows Server 2003.

Much of it is the same material that Microsoft senior vice president of the Windows Server division Bob Muglia discussed in a recent media tour. But basically the paper gives the full text of Microsoft's plans, rather than just what made it through the media filter.

The new release cycle is probably the least valuable part. "Microsoft intends to provide a more predictable Windows Server release cycle that helps customers to do longer term planning and budgeting. The goal is to provide a major Windows Server release approximately every four years, followed by a release update approximately two years after each major release," the document says. While a regular schedule is a laudable goal, the company has a spotty record for sticking to such pronouncements. The best laid plans for six months to a year for each service pack, etc., tend to get mired in ugly realities like antitrust agreements or security overhauls.

Definitions of what constitutes a major release, versus an upgrade release, versus a service pack or a feature pack are more useful in the near term. Microsoft defines a major release as a new kernel and support for new hardware and programming models. Update releases (read Windows Server "R2") integrate the previous major release with interim service packs, selected feature packs and new functionality. Service packs include bug fixes and new security enhancements, Microsoft now says.

The delivery dates are the most remarkable thing. Microsoft is usually loathe to put delivery dates in black and white, but there they are. In fact, the company is unlikely to meet many of the delivery targets in the paper, but the company appears committed for now to keeping the document up to date. Just a month after the document was published, for example, the entire 2004 schedule went out of date. The original document listed Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit Extended Systems and the Windows Update Services feature pack as 2004 deliverables. Microsoft has pushed all three back to 2005. The company updated the page on Wednesday with first half 2005 delivery dates for all three products. Nonetheless, the targets give some general sense of what Microsoft is aiming for.

Some of the interesting tidbits in the paper:

  • R2 is currently planned for the end of 2005. It will be based on Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1. An additional CD will contain the "R2" features, which will be an optional installation.
  • The Windows "Longhorn" Server schedule currently calls for a second half 2005 Beta 1, a 2006 Beta 2 and a 2007 delivery. Key features that for now are planned for Longhorn will be the next generation of the Web services application platform and role-based server deployment.

    The white paper is available here.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.