For several months now, Microsoft has been quietly revving up the next version of Windows Server (code-named Windows Server 8), which promises to be a blockbuster. Several Windows IT Pro authors got their first peek at Server 8 during Microsoft’s BUILD conference in September. In this first look at the newest Windows Server OS, Paul Thurrott gives you the mile-high view, Sean Deuby covers Active Directory, Jeff James focuses on storage, and Michael Otey discusses virtualization.

Windows Server 8 is so big, so major a change, that it’s difficult to conceptualize all at once. We can’t even begin to cover all the changes here, and it will be weeks if not months before the weight of what’s changing fully sinks in. But even at this early stage, it’s clear that Microsoft is making monumental changes to Windows Server with this release—drawing a line in the sand that will divide the post–Server 8 world from the pre–Server 8 world. These changes are scary and exciting, but most of all, they’re necessary. To get your own hands dirty with Server 8, download the Windows Developer Preview.