In April 2007, Microsoft shipped Windows Server 2008 Beta 3, a major milestone on the road to its next server OS. This release includes a slew of new features, which I examined two months ago in Need to Know (See "What You Need to Know About Windows Server 2008 Beta 3," August 2007, InstantDoc ID 96068). Since then, however, Microsoft has refreshed this product with a new Community Technology Preview (CTP) build that includes even more new features and functionality while fixing almost a thousand bugs. Here's what you need to know about what's changed in Windows 2008 since Beta 3.

The Big News: A Web Server Role
The biggest and most exciting change is that Windows 2008 Server Core will now support a Web Server role, a feature that was missing from previous beta releases. Originally, Microsoft didn't expect to be able to ship a Web Server role for Server Core, which lacks support for the Microsoft.NET Framework, necessary foundational technology for ASP.NET, and other IIS features. To get around these limitations, Server Core's Web Server role just doesn't support ASP.NET, so if you need it or other .NET-based technologies in IIS, you'll have to install the full version of Windows 2008. Note, however, that classic ASP does work on Server Core, according to Microsoft.

The reasons for making a version of the Web Server role without ASP.NET available to Server Core users are excellent, however. The role gives Microsoft shops a low-cost, small-footprint alternative to Linux Web servers, for example, and still provides all the core Web server functionality one could need. You can also put non-Microsoft Web server technologies, including Apache and PHP, on top of such an installation. And since Server Core is the least resource-intensive and most secure version of Windows 2008, you get those benefits as well. Of course, you'll also need to master the command line, but that's another story.

Smaller Changes and Updates
Another post–Beta 3 change is an update to Microsoft Windows Media Services (WMS) that basically provides compatibility with the latest prerelease versions of Windows 2008. As its name suggests, WMS is a media server that lets you stream Windows Media–based content across a network.

Beyond that, most of the changes you'll see in post–Beta 3 builds of Windows 2008 are performance improvements, fit and finish changes, bug fixes, and other small improvements. Post–Beta 3 versions of Windows 2008 are available to beta testers, MSDN subscribers, and TechNet subscribers, so if you qualify, be sure to grab the latest version of this impressive system.

Recommendation
If you have access to a more recent prerelease version of Windows 2008 than Beta 3, you should immediately begin evaluating that version of the product instead of Beta 3. Although Beta 3 was ostensibly "feature complete," in fact Microsoft has made some changes since then and has fixed hundreds of bugs. Windows 2008 is a huge and important upgrade to Microsoft's venerable server line and one that you'll want to be up on sooner rather than later.