At last week's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Los Angeles, Microsoft divulged a number of interesting details about the upcoming R2 update to Windows Server 2008. Known internally as Windows 7 Server because it is being developed alongside Microsoft's next client OS, Server 08 R2 diverges somewhat dramatically from Microsoft's previously stated plans for R2 updates. And I think that's just fine.

In case you're not familiar with Microsoft's release schedule mantra, the company has promised to ship major updates to Windows Server roughly every four years and then ship minor R2 updates in between. The first such R2 release was Windows Server 2003 R2, which fulfilled its minor update tag by offering just a handful of new features. This time around, however, Server 08 R2 is a much more aggressive release, one that might arguably be more fairly termed a major update.

Given the pace of the IT industry, I believe that Microsoft is doing the right thing with Server 08 R2, however. As previously promised it's the first Server version to come only in x64 variants: 32-bit versions of Windows Server are now officially obsolete. And unlike its predecessor, Server 08 R2 will not be limited to servers with 64 processors. Instead, it will now support up to 256 logical processors, taking Windows Server to ever-higher scalability and performance.

We've talked in the past about a few other upcoming R2 features, like HyperV 2.0 and Live Migration. But one I've really been waiting to discuss is the major update to Terminal Services (TS), which is being renamed to Remote Desktop Services (RDS) in this release. The big goal with RDS in R2 is to make the experience as seamless as possible for end users. So you're going to see things like support for Aero Glass over remote connections, true multimonitor support with as many as 10 physical displays, and, most crucially, Start Menu and desktop integration for remote applications.

For the most part, the new RDS branding will be obvious. TS RemoteApp becomes simply RemoteApp, but most other TS services pick up Remote Desktop branding. TS Gateway becomes Remote Desktop Gateway, for example, while TS Web Access becomes Remote Desktop Web Access. The only potentially confusing change is TS Session Broker, which is being renamed to Remote Desktop Connection Broker.

I've just gotten the pre-beta "M3" version of Server 2008 R2 installed and hope to have more to report in the weeks ahead. But when you examine all of the functionality this update will expose, I think you'll agree that there's a lot going on there for users, admins, and IT pros. And although feature overload is often undesirable, I think R2 strikes a nice balance. I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out with the company's users.