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Microsoft Releases Windows Server 2012 Essentials RC, Promises GA by Year's End

The release candidate (RC) of Windows Server 2012 Essentials was made available on Monday for download and testing.

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced the "release-to-manufacturing" (RTM) versions of the other Windows Server 2012 editions, making this week's RC announcement a bit surprising. Apparently, the Essentials edition had been lagging behind the other editions. The RC is the final test version, while the RTM is the final build that gets put on hardware products.

Joe Nalewabau of the Windows Server Essentials team stated in a blog post on Tuesday that Microsoft's goal is to "release Windows Server 2012 Essentials to manufacturing and make it generally available [GA] by the end of 2012, and we remain committed to this target."

Microsoft plans to release four editions of Windows Server 2012: Datacenter, Standard, Essentials and Foundation. The latter two editions, Essentials and Foundation, are aimed at small-business users, supporting 25 users and 15 users, respectively.

Microsoft described some of the features of Windows Server 2012 Essentials when it released the beta in July. Windows Server 2012 Essentials is aimed at small businesses that lack in-house IT skills. Its main virtue, as with with Windows Server 2012 Foundation, is that it can be upgraded to Windows Server 2012 Standard, which supports up to 75 users. However, it's possible that not all of the features of the Essentials edition will migrate over to the Standard edition, given Microsoft's past statements on the matter.

The RC of Windows Server 2012 Essentials contains a few new features. Microsoft has improved domain configurations via its wizard. Formerly, IT pros had to hunt down Secure Sockets Layer certificates to do this configuration work. Another improvement is that it's easier to import Office 365 users into Windows Server 2012 Essentials. Some setup time is saved now because only critical updates get installed during the setup process. Microsoft also added Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) support as "Windows Server 2012 Essentials supports turning on the DHCP role and setting a static IP address for the server," according to Microsoft's blog post.

There were also a few tidbits floated in Microsoft's blog post for those interested in remote server monitoring and control. Access to Windows Server 2012 Essentials will be possible by using something called the "Windows 8 companion app." Not much information was provided about it, but here's Microsoft's description of the app:

"Customers will be able to access Windows Server 2012 Essentials through a number of different client apps: a Remote Web Access web browser, our Windows Phone 7 app, and the brand new Windows 8 companion app. We are especially excited about the Windows 8 app because it not only makes it easy to access files and folders on the server, but also supports offline access."

The Windows 8 companion app, along with an updated Windows phone app for monitoring Windows Server 2012 Essentials, will be coming "in the next few weeks," according to Microsoft's blog.

Microsoft describes Windows Server 2012 Essentials as "formerly Windows Small Business Server Essentials." Microsoft plans to end the sales of Windows Small Business Server Essentials and Windows Home Server in December 2013.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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