On Friday, Microsoft announced that it had released Windows Server 2003 to manufacturing, setting the stage for the product's April 24 launch. I've discussed Windows 2003 a lot in Windows & .NET UPDATE and will continue to do so in the weeks ahead. This week, I highlight the so-called layered services approach that Microsoft is taking with this release. After a product spends 3 years in development, one of the big questions is, "How do you know when a product this complex is truly finished?" The answer, of course, is that a product this complex is never truly finished.

As Microsoft Senior Vice President Brian Valentine told me in an exclusive interview earlier this year (see URL below), finalizing the development of a product such as Windows 2003 is never easy because you can always find more features to add and more fixes to make. In the end, Valentine said, you have to draw a line, because otherwise, the product will never be finished. To help make the cutoff decision easier with Windows 2003, Microsoft separated several tools and services from the core OS product so that the company could finalize it in time for April. Some of these auxiliary products will ship in the months ahead, phased over time. I've listed the tools and services below according to when I believe these products will become available.

Group Policy Management Console
The Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) is a free add-on that Microsoft will provide on the Web concurrently with Windows 2003. This console lets administrators graphically create group policies and test their effects before applying them in a live environment.

SharePoint Services
Due soon after Windows 2003's release and concurrently with Microsoft Office 2003, SharePoint Services lets administrators create collaborative sites for document authors and other works. SharePoint Services is a free add-on. Windows Rights Management Services
Windows Rights Management Services (RMS--code-named Tungsten) is a set of services that will let compatible applications, such as those in Office 2003, secure data such as documents and email you create at work. RMS is also due shortly after the Windows 2003 launch. RMS pricing is unknown.

Real-Time Communications
Originally designed as an integral part of Windows 2003, Microsoft was forced to uncouple its real-time communications (RTC) server (code-named Greenwich) because the product would take a few months longer than the core OS to develop. The RTC server adds enterprise Instant Messaging (IM) capabilities to Windows 2003, including advanced security and logging. The RTC server is due in mid-2003, although Microsoft hasn't yet commented on licensing terms.

Security Configuration Wizard
Due in mid-2003, the Security Configuration Wizard (SCW) will run on top of the Configure Your Server Wizard to help lock down various server roles, in keeping with Windows 2003's roles-based management scheme. SCW will be a free add-on.

Microsoft Virtual Server
Part of the technology Microsoft purchased from Connectix in early 2003, Virtual Server lets you install several OSs on one server, all running in virtual machine (VM) environments. This product will ship in late 2003, although a public beta release will ship in April, and will be a per-processor-type server product.

Looking over this list, it's clear that Windows 2003 is never truly "done." But that's great, and arguably, Microsoft should have taken this approach with all its enterprise server products. When you combine this product rollout with Microsoft's tiered documentation model, in which the company will continually release and update its Windows 2003 documentation over the next few months, you have the makings of a concerted and well-planned product rollout.

Laptop of the Month: Electrovaya's Scribbler SC500
This month's laptop of the month is another Tablet PC, but the laptop takes a decidedly different approach from the competition. Electrovaya's Scribbler SC500 is a slate-style Tablet PC with an awkward-looking, hard-edged case. When you pick it up, you immediately notice that it weighs far more than other Tablet PCs, and although Electrovaya says otherwise, my guess is that the device tops 6 pounds, almost twice as much as some Tablet PCs.

So why would anyone want such an awkward device? The answer is battery life. The Scribbler SC500 gets 8 to 16 hours of battery life on one charge, making this device the only true all-day Tablet PC on the market. As a result, the Scribbler SC500 will work in environments in which workers can't charge their system during the day, including factory floors and cars, where insurance workers and the like spend the day driving from site to site, filling out forms. You could even use the device on intercontinental flights, although the slate form factor isn't optimal for business travelers.

The unit I tested includes a relatively modest Pentium III Processor - M 866MHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 30GB of hard disk space. I didn't receive an external optical drive with the unit, but Electrovaya did send a USB keyboard that would have been more useful if the unit included a stand on which to rest the tablet while typing. In addition to its stellar battery life, the Scribbler SC500 also includes a FireWire port and fingerprint authentication hardware, two features missing from most of the competition.

Aesthetically, the Scribbler SC500 isn't much to look at, but I suspect its utilitarian nature is by design--the unit is tough and seemingly indestructible. In an odd touch, you actually press the included stylus into small holes on the unit's front to trigger functionality such as powering on the system, opening the Start menu, or launching certain applications; for some reason, this reminds me of early bread-board systems, with their gridlike arrangement of punched-out holes.

The Scribbler SC500's performance is acceptable, probably more so because it includes enough RAM. An 866MHz processor isn't top-of-the-line these days, but unlike the Transmeta-powered Hewlett-Packard (HP) Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 I reviewed a few months ago, the Scribbler SC500 never had a problem keeping up with my handwriting, which is a primary concern on a Tablet PC. I also had no problem running typical business applications such as Microsoft Office on the device.

If you need heaping amounts of battery life, the Scribbler SC500 is your obvious choice. No portable computer on the market comes close to this kind of uptime.

"Moving On: Valentine Talks About Windows Server 2003”