Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2) is Microsoft's latest revision in the Windows Server product line, essentially replacing the earlier version of Windows 2003. If you buy a new license for Windows 2003, you'll get the R2 version. Only Software Assurance (SA) customers can upgrade to R2 at no cost; other customers will require a full license. Even so, the new R2 release has some compelling new features—especially for remote branch office scenarios. Here are my 10 favorite new R2 features. To check out these new features for yourself, you can download an evaluation version from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/evaluation/trial/default.mspx.

10. Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0—The inclusion of the new .NET Framework 2.0, working in combination with Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0 Service Pack 1 (SP1), provides the foundation for highly scalable Web applications. The new .NET Framework provides support for both 32- and 64-bit Web applications, improved performance, enhanced Web site logging, and a new Microsoft Management Console (MMC) plug-in for managing ASP.NET application settings.

9. PMC—Print management is a necessary evil that's common to virtually every IT department. R2 adds a new Print Management Console (PMC) that lets you manage multiple print servers, view the status of print jobs, and manage print drivers and ports.

8. MMC 3.0—Microsoft has enhanced MMC 3.0 with the ability to manage file and print services across the enterprise. The new version is more task-driven than its predecessor, and it enables centralized infrastructure support and reduces the need for hands-on management at remote sites.

7. Remote Control Add-on for Active Directory Users and Computers—The new Remote Control Add-on for the MMC Active Directory Users and Computers snap-in lets you easily open a Remote Desktop connection to computers listed in the snap-in. To use the Remote Control feature, right-click a computer account in the Active Directory Users and Computers snap-in and choose Remote Control.

6. ADFS—Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) lets companies securely share identity management information across organizational boundaries. ADFS works similar to the way a Windows-trust relationship works, but unlike a standard trust relationship, it lets companies connect across the Internet.

5. Storage Manager for SANs—Microsoft Storage Manager for SANs is designed to make SAN technology more accessible by letting you create and manage LUNs on SANs that support Virtual Disk Service (VDS).

4. DFS—With the R2 release, Microsoft has rewritten Distributed File System (DFS) and added a new, more efficient file-replication technology called Remote Differential Compression (RDC). RDC sends only the differences between files (instead of the entire file) when synchronizing files between remote DFS servers.

3. FSRM—The new File Server Resource Manager (FSRM) is an MMC plug-in that enables volume-based quota management. FSRM lets you create hard or soft quotas to limit the space allowed for a volume or folder and notify users when the quota limits are exceeded. In addition, you can create file filters to restrict users from saving files that have certain extensions.

2. SFU—Interoperability is a challenge for virtually every Windows administrator, and Microsoft has finally met this challenge in R2 by including Windows Services for UNIX (SFU). SFU offers a plethora of integration tools, including 300 UNIX utilities, Perl, password synchronization, and NFS server support.

1. Virtual Server 2005—Although R2 has a lot of great new features, my favorite is Virtual Server 2005. Virtual Server 2005 is a separate product, but you're entitled to use it free of charge with R2 Enterprise Edition and at a substantial discount with R2 Standard Edition. R2 Enterprise lets customers run up to four virtual machines (VMs) using the R2 OS with no additional licensing costs.