Like 2004, this year will be another of those interim years for Microsoft's enterprise operations, with no blockbuster releases of Windows or the Office suite. On the second tier of Microsoft's enterprise software stack, however, it does finally look like SQL Server 2005 will make its long-promised debut.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has dozens of major enterprise products, and each one's ongoing need for minor upgrades and tweaks will make for another full year of product releases.
We've pulled together a report detailing the expected dates and brief summaries of more than 40 betas, products and conferences in 2005 (with a few notable 2006 and 2007 items thrown in for good measure).
Windows Rights Management Services
Microsoft also plans to make Windows Server more branch office-friendly with the R2 release, making it easier to administer in locations that are without on-site administrators.
When R2 becomes available, it will be the version customers receive when they order Windows Server 2003. Customers with servers covered by Software Assurance when R2 is released will be able to upgrade to it at no additional cost. It will require the same version of client access licenses (CALs) as the original release of Windows Server 2003. A recent e-mail to beta testers suggested Microsoft planned to ship R2 in October.
Windows Storage Server 2003 "R2"
A refresh of Windows Storage Server 2003. Second half.
Windows Small Business Server 2003 "R2"
A refresh of Windows Small Business Server 2003. Second half.
Windows "Longhorn" Server Beta
Details remain sketchy at this stage. But highlights include a next-generation Web services application platform, new role-based deployment technologies building on the Security Configuration Wizard to reduce maintenance and attack surface, support for new hardware and standards, support for PCI Express and support for dynamic partitioning in high-end SMP systems. Expected in the second half.
Windows "Longhorn" Server
Microsoft's current plans call for the full release of Windows "Longhorn" Server to come in 2007 -- about a year after the client version (see client section below).
Windows Server 2003 x64 editions
Microsoft is getting close to delivering an entirely new class of operating systems -- the ones slated to run the AMD64 processors and Intel EM64T-enabled Xeon processors that use the x86 instruction set on 64-bit chips. On the server side, Microsoft plans three editions, all based on Windows Server 2003 SP1 code. They are Windows Server 2003 x64 Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition and Datacenter Edition. Microsoft's recent decision to add the Datacenter Edition to its x86-64 lineup is further evidence of Microsoft's, and the industry's, changing view of the chips. When AMD introduced the x86-64 processors, the chips were considered to be a low-end 64-bit stopgap between 32-bit Intel Xeon processors and Intel's Itanium line of high-performance, pure 64-bit processors (which have an instruction set incompatible with x86). Now that Intel has jumped aboard the x86-64 train with EM64T-capable Xeons, the SMP scalability potential of the architecture is greatly increased. The x64 editions are scheduled to ship in the first half.
Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition for Itanium-based Systems
This product lingered with little fanfare between its October 2003 announcement and late 2004 cancellation. As the industry trend toward x86-64 platforms for standard server computing and Itanium platforms only for high-end server applications became clearer, Microsoft quietly killed this version in its beta testing stage.
Windows Server 2003, Compute Cluster Edition beta
This edition is designed for massively parallel computing. It first emerged in June as the HPC Edition. HPC stood for high-performance computing. Aimed at a relatively narrow audience, the edition is designed to get Microsoft better visibility among the supercomputing set that does things like scientific research, mathematical computations and nuclear bomb blast simulations. Massively parallel computing systems based on Linux currently dominate the sector. Analysts say Microsoft is eager to position itself for a potential explosion of commercial applications for massively parallel computing. The beta is due in the first half.
Windows Server 2003, Compute Cluster Edition
A full release of the massively parallel computing platform is planned for the second half.
Windows Client Milestones
Windows "Longhorn" client beta
The intense public vetting of Microsoft's next major client operating system begins in earnest in 2005. The fluid set of early technologies, feature sets and system requirements will solidify quickly as widespread betas make their way to customers. The first beta is supposed to be available in the first half, with some reports pinning the release date as early as February.
Windows "Longhorn" client
In August, Microsoft committed to a general availability of Longhorn in 2006. Although Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer joked that a 2006 delivery date means Dec. 31, others say Microsoft is aiming for a release to manufacturing date in the first half of the year.
Microsoft's last public statements called for a beta of WinFS around the same time that the Longhorn client ships. Although this is still a year ahead of the Windows "Longhorn" server ship date, Microsoft officials have said WinFS won't make it into the RTM version of Longhorn server either.
Indigo Community Technical Preview
Indigo is the communications subsystem that was once a pillar of the Longhorn operating system, along with the presentation subsystem, Avalon, and WinFS. In August, Microsoft executives decided to make Indigo and Avalon available as free platform upgrades for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 in order to broaden the appeal of the technologies for developers. There's no hard evidence that a technical preview is on the way for Indigo. But Microsoft set a precedent with the delivery of a technical preview in the fall of Indigo's sister technology, Avalon.
Windows 2000 Update Rollup
This set of updates (see entry in server section above) will also affect Windows 2000 Professional. Mid-year delivery.
Windows XP Service Pack 3
Although Microsoft hasn't publicly promised it, analysts at Gartner give it a high probability of arriving sometime in the second half of the year. They predict that some of the anti-spyware and anti-virus capabilities Microsoft has picked up through acquisitions will make their way into the base operating system through SP3.
Malware removal tool
Microsoft leveraged its June 2003 purchase of anti-virus vendor GeCAD Software to produce a removal tool for computers infected by viruses, worms and other malware. Microsoft plans to update the tool every month on its regular "Patch Tuesday." The first version of the tool was scheduled for the January 2005 Patch Tuesday (Jan. 11).
Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
By dropping support for Windows XP Professional on Itanium 2, Microsoft made the forthcoming Windows XP Professional x64 Edition its operating system of choice for high-end workstations. This edition is supposed to ship with the x64 editions of Windows Server 2003 sometime in the first half.
Enterprise Server Milestones
SQL Server 2005 Beta 3
The Beta 3 version of Microsoft's long-anticipated refresh of its flagship database is slated to include a number of feature enhancements over the Beta 2 version, which came out in July. New features include a new engine for extraction, transformation and loading of data, new business intelligence functionality and incorporation into the database of the ActiveViews technology Microsoft acquired last spring. Microsoft needs to distribute this beta in the first quarter to hit its schedule for general availability (next item).
SQL Server 2005
SQL Server 2000 shipped more than four years ago. SQL Server "Yukon," now SQL Server 2005, has been on the promised delivery list almost every year since 2002. This year, however, Microsoft seems poised to ship it. The company is promising a summer release to manufacturing date, meaning fall for general availability.
Visual Studio 2005
The "Whidbey" version of the developer tools suite fits hand-in-glove with "Yukon." Designed to help developers leverage changes in the database, Visual Studio 2005 also introduces team development concepts to help developers create applications that are automatically documented and more easily managed by IT administrators later in an application's lifecycle.
SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 4
This service pack just entered the beta stage and is expected to go gold later in the year.
SQL Server Reporting Services Service Pack 2
SQL Server Reporting Services is an add-on for SQL Server 2000. SP2 also just went into beta testing.
Exchange Edge Services 2005
Microsoft scrapped plans for a 2005 delivery of Exchange Edge Services, a set of technologies for e-mail protection and spam management that builds on Exchange Server 2003. According to Microsoft, after the initial Edge Services announcement early in 2004, customers said they needed the product's scope to be broader and include messaging policy capabilities. Now the services appear likely to ship with the next version of Exchange, code-named "Exchange 12." (see below).
Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2
Originally planned as the delivery vehicle for Exchange Edge Services, Microsoft's plans for Exchange Server 2003 SP2 are now less ambitious. But in addition to the normal bug fixes and performance improvements, Microsoft does intend to deliver its SenderID Framework in SP2. Other focus areas for SP2 -- mobility, anti-spam and an improved public folder management and interface. Due in the second half.
For the next version of Exchange Server, code-named "Exchange 12," Microsoft is investing in unified messaging, improved search and 64-bit support among other things.
Broad themes of the next release are improved end-user productivity; total cost of ownership and manageability; and secure messaging and message "hygiene" (formerly Exchange Edge Services 2005). Microsoft officials suggest Exchange 12 will be a 2006 or 2007 release that is loosely synchronized with "Office 12," the code-name for the next version of Office.
Exchange Server Web Release Tools
Microsoft is working on several Exchange Server tools for release over the Web in 2005. They include a storage sizing assistant, an SMTP configuration diagnosis tool, public folder usage and analysis tools and integration of the Best Practices Analyzer with Microsoft Operations Manager 2005.
Internet Security & Acceleration Server 2004 Enterprise Edition
The Standard Edition of the software-based firewall and Web caching server has been out since July, but Microsoft has yet to deliver an Enterprise Edition. Microsoft says to expect it in the first half.
System Center 2005
Making it easier to use Systems Management Server and Microsoft Operations Manager together is a high priority for Microsoft. One way Microsoft is aiming to create a "better together" experience is through a suite called Microsoft System Center 2005. The suite will include SMS 2003, MOM 2004 and a new reporting server that pulls data from both management products. Microsoft is supposed to deliver System Center in the first half.
Windows Server System 2006 Criteria
The criteria are 16 standards that each new member of Microsoft's server family is supposed to hit. Compliance is considered at the product definition phase and measured at the time of the first beta test release and prior to launch. Many of the standards are designed to make Microsoft's server products more similar to ensure that IT skills and tasks on one Microsoft server product translate to all other Microsoft products in the family. Microsoft plans to update its criteria for 2006 in the second half.
"Istanbul" is the code-name for the real-time collaboration client for Live Communications Server 2005. LCS 2005 is already generally available, but the client is still in development. Similar to Windows Messenger in core functionality and layout, Istanbul breaks new ground in its richer, more automated presence capabilities and its integration with enterprise desktop phones. Istanbul is due in the first half.
Data Protection Server beta
In September, Microsoft unveiled backup and recovery software for Windows file servers that will provide continuous backup of incremental changes to files and rapid recovery from disk-based storage. While DPS itself must be run on Windows Server 2003 due to its reliance on storage capabilities unique to that OS, it can be used to back up file servers running Windows 2000, as well. One key feature is self-service file recovery for end users. The first beta is expected in the first quarter.
Data Protection Server
General availability of Data Protection Server is currently slated for the second half of 2005.
A new version of Commerce Server is planned for 2006. Some of Microsoft's investments for that version, discussed in May, will include tighter integration with BizTalk Server and Visual Studio, new user interfaces, expanded reporting tools for business managers and enhanced customer self-service.
BizTalk Server 2004 Service Pack 1
Due in the first quarter of 2005, as early as the last week in January.
BizTalk Server 2006
Formerly code-named "Pathfinder," BizTalk Server 2006 will be the fourth version of Microsoft's business integration and business process management server software. According to Microsoft's roadmap, BizTalk Server 2006 looks to be a set of refinements rather than a new direction for the server. Microsoft will focus on improving management, operations and the business user experience. The 2006 version will also introduce support for Virtual Server 2005 and three products expected to ship in 2005 -- Windows Server 2003 x64 editions, SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005. Loose delivery timetable of late 2005 or 2006.
Beyond BizTalk Server 2006
No public code-name yet, but Microsoft product managers are talking up the improvements to come in a version of BizTalk Server that ships sometime after BizTalk Server 2006. The main focus of the release -- leveraging Windows "Longhorn" Server, which is due in 2007. The big boost for the post-2006 BizTalk in the Longhorn wave is the "Indigo" infrastructure for building secure, reliable and transacted services. Microsoft's BizTalk team is also eager to leverage further development enhancements in the version of Visual Studio that parallels Longhorn. Due no sooner than 2007.
Office and Applications Milestones
"Office 12" beta
Microsoft has been mum on the feature set and vague on the timing of this release, code-named "Office 12." As the Office feature set is fairly mature, expect Microsoft to further develop its Office System 2003 themes of tight integration between Office applications and Exchange and SharePoint Live Communications servers. Some reports have a beta scheduled for the fall.
Microsoft officials have hinted that the full release for the next version of Office 12 is roughly scheduled to coincide with the next version of the Windows "Longhorn" client sometime in 2006. However, early plans to make the worker productivity suite dependent on the client operating system were scrapped sometime ago. It should run at least on Windows XP and Longhorn.
Microsoft Axapta 4.0
Microsoft Business Solutions spent the last year putting out a wave of ERP products around five generic themes: improving total cost of ownership, building adaptive processes, empowering users, connecting businesses and bringing insight. Since June, Microsoft delivered Great Plains 8.0, Microsoft Solomon 6.0 and Microsoft Navision 4.0. The last item in the wave, to come out this year, is Microsoft Axapta 4.0. Axapta provides manufacturing and supply chain management with core financial management for upper mid-market companies or enterprise divisions.
Key Microsoft Conferences
Office System Developer Conference
Microsoft is throwing its first ever event for Office System Developers Feb. 2-4 at its Redmond, Wash., campus. According to Microsoft, about 800 developers will attend from industry partner and customer companies. The event is likely to be a source of updates about the Office 12 feature set, the next version of Exchange Server and beta and release timetables.
Microsoft is promising a lot more Longhorn detail at its annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference. The conference is set for April 25-27 in Seattle.
Microsoft holds its annual administrator-oriented event in Orlando, Fla., from June 5-10. This conference is always a source of information on Microsoft's product roadmaps, as well as a common launch pad for several products and betas.
Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in 2003 was the public debut of Longhorn. After skipping the show in 2004, Microsoft is holding it again this year from Sept. 13-16 in Los Angeles. While the PDC 2003 offered a taste of what could be coming in Longhorn, PDC 2005 ought to be much more grounded in specifics.
Key Support Deadlines (2005-2006)