Microsoft readies Windows Server 2003 R2 beta

Microsoft has started recruiting testers for the first beta of Windows Server 2003 R2, an update to Windows Server that the vendor plans to ship in October next year.

The beta test period is expected to start soon, according to a posting on Beta Place, Microsoft's beta Web site, which also mentions the October release target. At least some of the prospective testers were invited to trial the Windows Server update because they also tested Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1), according to Neowin.net, a Microsoft enthusiast Web site.

This first beta test is scheduled to start this month, but will be limited to about 1,000 specially selected testers, a Microsoft spokeswoman said. A second, public beta is planned for the first half of next year, she said.

Windows Server 2003 R2 is an interim release of Windows Server built on top of Windows Server 2003 SP1. It will include most of the feature packs Microsoft released since the initial Windows Server 2003 release in 2003, including Active Directory Application Mode, Windows SharePoint Services, and Automated Deployment 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 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 sneak 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, which is due out in 2007. Microsoft is taking its time to make its NAP feature work with a similar technology that is being developed by Cisco Systems Inc.

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.

Word of the R2 beta follows the release to testers of a release candidate of Windows Server 2003 SP1 earlier this week. A release candidate is a near-final version of the service pack, which is slated for final release in the first half of 2005. SP1 is a security-focused upgrade for Windows Server 2003.

Along with SP1, Microsoft made available RC1 versions of Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.

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