Microsoft's public roadmap does not indicate that there will be any more service packs or update releases for Windows Server 2003 beyond Service Pack 2. The direct successor to Windows Server 2003 will be Windows Server "Longhorn" and is slated for release sometime in 2007. (You can check out a beta here.) The product does not yet have an official name yet, but I expect it to be something along the lines of Windows Server 2007 or Windows Server 2008. (Personally, I hope Microsoft sticks with the 2008 moniker -- some naming continuity would be splendid!)
Some of the new and improved services provided in Windows Server "Longhorn" include the following:
- Network Access Protection: Allows IT to define specific requirements that clients must meet in order to join the network. For example, you can dictate that a client must meet the requirement of a minimum version of a virus scanner.
- Server Core: A GUI-less, .NET Framework-less version of Windows Server "Longhorn." You can configure a Server Core installation to perform just DNS, DHCP, domain controller, or file server chores, with no other ancillary services getting in the way. This definitely lowers the attack surface of the server, which users can manage from a command line or by using a remote management console.
- Improved Terminal Services (TS): Users can run TS-based applications as if the apps were local to their desktops. Terminal Services Web Access will bring similar functionality to the Web browser.
- Read-only domain controller: Do you have a remote office with less-than-ideal space and a lack of physical security? Using a Windows Server "Longhorn"-based, read-only domain controller, you can place a logon server closer to users without compromising the integrity of your Active Directory.
Like its predecessors, future versions of Windows Server will have multiple, distinct versions available to consumers, with each serving a specific market. Windows Server "Longhorn" has two editions planned for 2008 code named Windows Small Business Server Cougar and Centro (which doesn't have a known expanded name). Here is a brief overview of both products.
Business Server Cougar
Cougar will map directly to Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2. However, the Cougar version of Windows Small Business Server is expected to be a 64-bit-only affair, partly due to its inclusion of Exchange Server 2007, a 64-bit only product. In addition to Exchange, Cougar will include the appropriate Longhorn bits, as well as SQL Server, Windows SharePoint Services, ISA Server, and System Center Essentials. Cougar, which will run on a single server only, will target small organizations with 75 or fewer employees.
Where software is concerned, Centro is similar is scope to Cougar, but it will support up to 500 users, with installation available for multiple servers. I have to admit that I'm curious to see how Microsoft handles this particular edition of Windows Server. The Small Business Server product definitely fills a niche, but as for Centro, with up to 500 users, Microsoft may find that existing enterprise-level offerings are already meeting needs and that Centro isn't something that the market is demanding. It seems like most organizations that have 500 users will have IT staff capable of managing existing enterprise products.
What about support for Windows Server 2003?
Microsoft states that it will continue mainstream support for two years after the release of Windows Server "Longhorn." The company also plans to provide extended support for five years after mainstream support ends. (Extended support generally means that Microsoft will provide only security updates unless your company has purchased a support contract for additional help.)
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