After the monolithic development of Windows 2000, Microsoft took a different approach with Windows Server 2003, which shipped as part of a rolling technology release that continues to this day. That is, all the functionality for Windows 2003 wasn't set in stone when Microsoft released the product in April 2003. Instead, Microsoft has augmented the server OS with a set of "out-of-band" (OOB) updates, now called feature packs, that build on Windows 2003's solid base and add new functionality. In mid-2005, Microsoft will ship a second edition of Windows 2003, logically named Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2), that will incorporate many of these feature packs, all the improvements from Windows 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1), and other new features into the core OS. Here's what you need to know about Windows 2003 R2.

Integrated Service Packs and Feature Packs
First, Windows 2003 R2 will incorporate all the features from Windows 2003 SP1, including bug fixes, security enhancements, better availability, performance improvements, and support for both Intel and AMD x86 64-bit platforms. R2 will also include updated versions of several feature packs that Microsoft shipped after Windows 2003, including Windows Rights Management Services (RMS).

New Features
R2 will also include several new features that are unique to this product. These features include better branch-management support, which will help distributed enterprises more easily administer and configure remote offices; anywhere-access support for mobile and telecommuting employees; network quarantine capabilities that will lock out of your network clients that don't meet your business's health-state requirements; and Trustbridge authentication for cross-business collaboration with partners. Microsoft is not yet sure whether R2 will ship with the Bear Paw update to Windows 2003 Terminal Services, which will enable application publishing and provisioning to remote clients so that workers receive only specific application windows, rather than a full Terminal Services environment.

How R2 Will Ship
R2 will ship as a new version of Windows 2003. Some of the features (e.g., SP1) will be slipstreamed into the core product; others will ship separately on a second CD-ROM. Microsoft hasn't yet decided how to handle upgrades, but the company has stated that it will provide Software Assurance (SA) customers with R2 as part of their agreement.

Recommendations
R2 will be an important upgrade for businesses that expect to run Windows 2003 for some time to come. For existing Windows 2003 customers, R2 will be a feature-packed upgrade, and by mid-2005, it will be a logical replacement for Windows 2003. If Microsoft delivers this set of functionality in a low-cost or free package, as expected, R2 will be all the more worthwhile.