Microsoft pries lid off stack

Microsoft this week will put a new face on its stack. Analysts, however, question whether the changes will be dramatic enough to inspire customers to upgrade in the immediate future.

Microsoft will unveil on Thursday Windows Server 2003, Visual Studio .Net 2003, and the 64-bit SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition. The software giant will also rebrand its server portfolio, placing Windows Server 2003 and more than a dozen other servers under the Windows Server System moniker. The .Net tag will be retired from server products, according to company officials.

Microsoft’s stack face-lift speaks to a number of the company’s latest goals -- namely, boosting its .Net Framework development platform as an alternative to Java and Linux, making it easier to use the company’s server platform, and enhancing its Web services capabilities. The server and tools are being launched together to create synergy between the products, said Dennis Oldroyd, director of Windows Server marketing at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.

"The key new [feature] for Windows Server is inclusion of the .Net Framework shipping native," Oldroyd said. The Net Framework 1.1 includes the CLR (Common Language Run time), ASP .Net class libraries, and the .Net programming model. "It’s our version of the application server. We think it leapfrogs Java in terms of productivity, in terms of performance."

Ironically, Microsoft is touting its Windows server platform as a cheaper alternative to Linux. "We really feel that we deliver some unique value in terms of dependability, manageability, and performance relative to open-source products," Oldroyd said.

The operating system also features native support for Web services, including a UDDI server for public or private registries. It will also be available in 64-bit versions.

Visual Studio .Net 2003 features C++ standards compliance and mobile development enhancements via the .Net Compact Framework, providing a consistent programming model between it and the .Net Framework.

"[Visual Studio .Net] brings a much richer set of managed services to the development environment, and it allows you to share components across applications," said Nate Quigley, president of Cambridge, Mass.-based Shelflink Inc., a Microsoft ISV that has developed a Pocket PC-based application for PepsiCo sales representatives.

One analyst said that the changes to the platform are not dramatic but that there are some noteworthy improvements.

"There aren’t as many fundamental changes to the operating system as there were between Windows NT and 2000," said Tony Iams, senior analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc., in Port Chester, N.Y.

Improvements in Active Directory, however, should entice some customers to upgrade. "It gives you tools to basically manage security and privileges that users have on very large networks," Iams said.

Another analyst suggested it will take enterprises time to embrace the platform.

"This isn’t people lining up atmidnightto get the software," said analyst Greg DeMichillie, senior analyst of developer tools and strategies at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft Inc., which is not affiliated with Microsoft.

"These products require a long sales process," DiMichillie said.

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