Yesterday, Microsoft shipped its final pre-release version of Windows Server 2003 R2 ("release 2") to the public. The Release Candidate 1 (RC1) version of R2 is what Microsoft is now calling its "final development milestone," suggesting that a final release is imminent. It offers no new features when compared to the previous pre-release version, RC0.
 
"Windows Server 2003 R2 is an update release built on Windows Server 2003 \[with Service Pack 1\] and provides improved platform capabilities, branch office server solutions, identity and access management and storage management," a Microsoft representative told me. "The final version of the product is slated for delivery by the end of the year."

Demand for this interim version of Windows Server is strong, Microsoft tells, me, and over 25,000 customers have downloaded public beta and RC versions of the product this year. Though the RC1 version doesn't include any new features, Microsoft recently announced that the Enterprise Edition of Windows Server 2003 R2 would ease licensing for instances of that OS running in virtual machines. Under the new licensing terms, R2 Enterprise Edition licensees can run up to four more instances of that OS in virtual environments, on one physical server, at no additional cost.

Like previous pre-release versions of this system, R2 RC1 is available for public download. Please visit the Microsoft Web site for more information. I'll be updating my R2 review on the SuperSite for Windows in the coming days.