32-bit Server editions of the next version of Windows 2000, code-named "Whistler," will offer a "headless" option that allows the product to more closely compete with embedded and Unix-based solutions. Headless servers operate without a local display, keyboard, or mouse, and management is done remotely over a network. To facilitate this feat, Microsoft is working with hardware makers to create BIOS support for headless servers. A first generation version of the technology will actually debut this summer in a software kit Microsoft is supplying to PC makers. But the release of Whistler next spring will offer solution providers with the first true Windows headless server.

"It’s a server that doesn’t require a keyboard, a monitor, or a mouse," said Pasquale DeMaio, a Microsoft program manager, last month at WinHEC. "You can remove the keyboard controller and the video controller as long as your BIOS supports use without the video card present ... There will be no headless support for 64-bit Windows in the Windows Whistler timeframe "

Though Whistler Personal and Whistler Professional, the consumer and business desktop versions of Windows 2001, won't support headless operation, the omission of 64-bit versions of the technology is surprising. Microsoft says that though 64-bit headless servers won't be available in the Whistler timeframe, the subsequent release, code-named "Blackcomb," will offer this feature. Microsoft will, however, offer 64-bit versions of Server, Advanced Server, and DataCenter Server that are otherwise functionally identical to the 32-bit versions. Whistler Personal and Whistler Professional will not be offered in 64-bit versions.

In addition to its specific hardware requirements, headless Whistler servers will also require a physically secure environment. For more information about this technology, please visit the Microsoft Web site