Microsoft has finally launched Windows Server 2003, the first product it has delivered since introducing the “trustworthy computing” initiative just over a year ago.

The trustworthy computing initiative is cited as the primary reason for the delay in the release of Windows Server 2003, as Microsoft took its engineers “offline” and back to school to go over every line of code looking for exploits. And presumably removing them.

Never one to view a Microsoft glass as half-empty, the company is boasting the beta-testing period — which went nine months over schedule — is the longest one for any Windows product. “We owe it to our customers to get it right the first time,” Windows Server Product Manager for Microsoft Australia Michael Leworthy told ZDNet Australia  .

A large part of Microsoft making Windows secure was simply changing the default options that were installed out of the box. Windows 2000 came with every feature installed and switched on, which left the operating system “wide open”, according to Leworthy. Windows Server 2003, on the other hand, has its default settings selected to the most secure configuration possible, and comes with 25 less services installed by default compared with Windows Server 2000.

In a video telecast from the US, senior vice president for Windows Brian Valentine said Windows Server 2003 underpins Microsoft’s move into the high-end enterprise space, and has been designed to be deployed in role-specific environments. He also emphasised the company’s new focus on security.

“We asked ourselves should we look at the next 1,000 features we want to include or should we start acting and being like an enterprise supplier, and work closer with our customers?” said Valentine.

One thing Microsoft has listened to its customers about is scripting, which it has reintroduced in Windows Server 2003. This is a turn-about for the company, which championed the GUI (graphical user interface) as the way of the future. The company is also trying to address criticisms of excessive downtime that dog its products.

“We’ve introduced a whole heap of new things to help with planned downtime, and achieved a 30-40 percent reduction,” said Leworthy. “I’d love to have a non-stop system, but I’m not sure if we’ll get there…we will eventually.”

Microsoft is hoping this release will be the one that convinces customers to upgrade from Windows NT4, which still accounts for about 15 percent of the Windows install base. Early this year, Microsoft extended the support life for NT4 for an additional 12 months until the end of 2004.

“This is the release our NT4.0 community has been waiting for,” said Leworthy, adding that most NT4 customers upgraded in 1999 due to concerns over the Y2K bug, and were nearing the end of their software life cycle. “They’re having trouble securing and maintaining the system.”

The pricing for Windows Server 2003 is about the same as for Windows Server 2000, and those companies which chose to go with Licensing 6 “Software Assurance” contracts will receive the new operating system as part of that agreement.

Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition for departmental environments will cost US$999 for five client licenses and US$1,199 for 10 licenses. The enterprise edition, which is targeted at medium to large companies with more mainstream multiprocessor servers, will be priced at US$3,999 with 25 licenses.

A new Web Server edition for low-end machines will cost US$399 with no client licenses.