The release of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP desktop operating system and all its hype has made for a tough act to follow, but it isn't slowing the software maker as it forges ahead with the release of its next big operating system, this time for servers.
The company will make available this month the third beta version of the Windows .NET Server, the successor to Windows 2000, Microsoft's server operating system that is just now beginning to gain acceptance in the corporate market. Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates made the announcement during the opening keynote at Comdex here Sunday.
Aside from a branding crisis that has left the server software without a solid name -- morphing from its code name Whistler, to Windows 2002 Server, to its latest moniker Windows .NET Server -- Microsoft hasn't done much to promote the new software compared to the multimillion dollar campaign behind Windows XP.
Some analysts say Windows .NET hasn't attracted the same attention as its desktop counterpart because there are few customers that will see the need to upgrade. The operating system's release, expected in the next six months according to company executives, comes just as corporate customers struggle with the move to Windows 2000.
"It's clear from our survey data that users are still trying to adopt Windows 2000," said Dan Kusnetzky, an operating systems analyst with International Data Corp. "The more likely outcome is that Microsoft will release Windows .NET, and companies will buy small quantities of it for test purposes and continue with their Windows 2000 roll out."
Gartner Inc. analyst Tom Bittman wrote in a research note in June that "the Windows .NET Server ... should be considered a branding change, not a fundamental technology change."
Microsoft contends that Windows .NET is everything its predecessor is, sharing the same operating system kernel, but one that will do a whole lot more, mainly in regards to new technology built into the software that will facilitate Microsoft's vision for building and distributing XML (Extensible Markup Languages) Web services.
New features in Windows.NET address some of the issues that customers have had with Windows 2000, according to Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group. Some improvements he noted include the ability to maintain the software remotely and install it with less hassle. It will also have the .NET Framework and the Passport authentication service built in, enabling easy adoption as Microsoft unveils more .NET technology.
Most importantly, Microsoft and Enderle say, Windows.NET will be a much more secure operating system than its predecessors. Gates explained Sunday how the new software will ship with all of its bells and whistles turned off in the default settings.
"That has been a problem with previous products from Microsoft. The out-of-the-box products had a bunch of holes," Enderle said. "The end result was there were a number of breaches. Microsoft is now taking no risks, and making it secure out of the box."
Windows 2000, for instances, was vulnerable to security breaches because many of the more advanced features included with the server operating system were activated from the minute the software was installed on a system. Because customers often never used some of those default features, it left the software vulnerable.
"In the past Microsoft has always chosen a balance point that was more on the side of ease of use and less on the side of security," Kusnetzky said, noting that the added features were intended to increase the ease of use, but left the software open to security risks.