Windows Server 2003 update to precede Longhorn

Stirring up its Windows Server product road map, Microsoft Corp. said Friday it plans to ship an updated version of its Windows Server 2003 product before a Longhorn version of the server operating system, expected by about 2007.

“It is likely that we will introduce an update to Windows Server 2003,” said Jeff Price, senior director for Windows Server product management at Microsoft. “We’re hearing from customers that they want us to look at a more integrated and easier-to-consume delivery vehicle for technology updates to Windows Server 2003.”

The components in the update are likely to include Windows SharePoint Services, Windows Rights Management Services and the Group Policy Management Console, which have been released as Windows Server 2003 Feature Packs since the operating system was launched in April 2003, Microsoft said.

But the update will not just offer a roll-up of Windows Server 2003 updates or feature packs. It will likely also add new features and functionality to the operating system, Price said, although he declined to detail any of those new features.

Microsoft has yet to decide on naming, packaging and a delivery date for the update. Pricing is also undecided, which means customers who bought Windows Server 2003 and did not sign up for Microsoft’s Software Assurance upgrade plan may have to pay for the new software.

“Customers who purchased Software Assurance with Windows Server 2003 as well as people buying the product (when it is released) at that time would get this new technology, the rest of the decisions are pending,” he said.

Customers won’t mind an updated release of Windows Server 2003, said Al Gillen, research director for system software at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “Anytime Microsoft can offer some incremental update, there is nothing wrong with that,” he said. Users like to have the richest version of Windows Server available, Gillen said.

However, with Windows Server 2003 not even a year old, users would not welcome a completely new server release, Gillen said. “Customers are still absorbing Windows Server 2003; there aren’t too many customers standing around waiting for the next version,” he said. “I tend to look at this update more as a statement of packaging.”

Gillen expects that with Longhorn not due until 2006 or even 2007, the Windows Server 2003 update should come out between 12 and 18 months from now. A first service pack for the server operating system is due out in the second half of this year, Microsoft has said.

The news of an updated release of Windows Server 2003 comes a week after Microsoft confirmed that it is pondering ways to add functionality to Windows XP after the release of Service Pack 2 later this year. These discussions, under the project name Windows XP Reloaded, could result in an interim release of Windows before Longhorn, but the Microsoft has not confirmed such a plan.

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