Administrators who made the transition from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 often faced an epic struggle, especially if they had already implemented a fairly complex NT-based domain. But the next Windows Server release, called Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server), will offer only a minor upgrade to Win2K Server, providing often- subtle improvements in several areas but few major new features. So why would you want to bother with yet another Windows Server upgrade? Here's what you need to know about Win.NET Server.

Timeline and Stats
By the end of 2002, Microsoft will release the Win.NET Server family—which includes Windows .NET Web Server (Win.NET Web Server), Win.NET Standard Server (formerly Win2K Server), 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows .NET Enterprise Server (Win.NET Enterprise Server—formerly Win2K Advanced Server), 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows .NET Datacenter Server (Win.NET Datacenter Server—formerly Win2K Datacenter Server), and Windows .NET Server Embedded. Customers will be able to purchase and deploy the products in early 2003. Win.NET Server is release 5.2 of the Windows product family (Windows XP was release 5.1, and Win2K was release 5.0). Win.NET Web Server and Win.NET Server will support 1 to 2 processors, Win.NET Enterprise Server will support as many as 8 processors, and Win.NET Datacenter Server will support 8 to 32 processors.

Web Services Platform
Microsoft's move to Microsoft .NET Web services will require a server-based infrastructure that enables the experiences end users will someday expect. Providing the tools that developers needed to create Web services was the first step in the plan, and the early 2002 release of Visual Studio .NET satisfied that need. With its integrated .NET Framework 1.1 and Common Language Runtime (CLR) environment, Win.NET Server supplies the host platform for Web services and performance advantages over Win2K Server. Future server products, which will run on Win.NET Server, will provide specific .NET Web services, and third parties will also create their own services.

Trustworthy Computing
Win.NET Server is the first Microsoft product that's innately affected by the company's recent Trustworthy Computing initiative. Microsoft halted Win.NET Server development for more than a month and a half in early 2002 so that the company's programmers could review every line of source code and look for common coding mistakes, security vulnerabilities, and other system-integrity problems. Microsoft IIS, which used to be turned on by default and was peppered with potential security violations, is no longer installed unless specifically required, and when installed, arrives in locked-down mode; warnings about potential problems pop up as users enable the software's features. If Microsoft's security initiatives are successful, Win.NET Server will be the most stable, reliable, and dependable server OS the company has ever shipped. Time will tell.

Windows Media Services
The Windows Media Services (WMS) platform (code-named Corona), which dramatically eases the act of distributing digital music and video across an enterprise or over the Internet, is a cool but underrated new Win.NET Server feature. (WMS is available in all server versions except Win.NET Web Server.) For the first time, NT-savvy administrators and digital-content creators will find equal success delivering streaming media, thanks to Corona's simple interface and well-thought-out wizards. If you hadn't considered delivering video or audio content throughout the enterprise (e.g., for video training or remote event recaps), WMS might just change your mind. Give it a try.

Evolutionary Improvements
Most Win.NET Server improvements build on Win2K features. For example, Microsoft has upgraded Active Directory (AD) with support for backing up the AD database to removable media, cross-forest AD trust, and renameable domains. And a new version of Manage Your Server lets you easily set up Win.NET Server for specific roles such as file server, print server, and Web server. (Sadly, experienced administrators will often needlessly overlook this handy front end because of a distrust of wizards.) Microsoft has dramatically increased command-line support, and a new Software Restriction Policies feature lets administrators fine-tune which applications users can and can't run.

Recommendations
Unless you have specific needs that Win.NET Server addresses, no reason exists to upgrade existing Win2K servers to the new version. However, you should consider Win.NET Server for new server deployments because it integrates seamlessly with other Windows Server versions. And NT 4.0 administrators will start running out of upgrade excuses, thanks to Win.NET Server's many migration improvements.