Second Windows Server 2003 R2 beta to start soon

Microsoft later this month plans to release a second beta of Windows Server 2003 R2, a Windows Server update it plans to ship at the end of this year.

Microsoft later this month plans to release a second beta version of Windows Server 2003 R2, an update to Windows Server that the vendor plans to ship in the fourth quarter of this year.

This second beta test release follows a first release in December that was limited to about 1,500 selected testers. Microsoft expanded that pool of testers to 2,800 early this year, but the first beta was still considered a "private" beta. The software maker is now recruiting testers for a broader second beta, which will start in April and run until the fourth quarter of 2005, according to an e-mail Microsoft sent to potential testers this week.

Windows Server 2003 R2 is an interim release of Windows Server built on top of Windows Server 2003 SP1, which was released two weeks ago. R2 will include most of the feature packs Microsoft released since the initial Windows Server 2003, new storage management capabilities and features such as branch server management and Active Directory Federation Services.

The interim release is intended to fill the gap between Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server Longhorn, which is set to ship in 2007. Microsoft in May last year clarified its Windows Server road map. Plans call for a major release roughly every four years and an incremental update two to two-and-a-half years after each major release.

Microsoft gave a preview of Windows Server 2003 R2 at its Tech Ed user conference in San Diego last May. The vendor demonstrated several features, but in October revised its ambitions for the Windows Server update by axing some of those.

For example, at Tech Ed Microsoft showed off Network Access Protection (NAP), which lets administrators ensure a computer joining a network meets security and configuration requirements. NAP now won't ship next year, but instead will be included in Longhorn Server. Microsoft is taking its time to make its NAP feature work with a similar technology that is being developed by Cisco Systems Inc., the company has said.

While service packs are available at no charge, the R2 update will not be, Microsoft has said. Companies that bought individual licenses for earlier Windows Server products will have to buy a new license for R2. Customers who have purchased Software Assurance, Microsoft's software maintenance plan, will receive the update at no extra charge.

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