In his WinHEC keynote address Wednesday morning, Microsoft Corporate Vice President David Thompson revealed that the company's Blackcomb project will not be delivered as a major server upgrade as previously expected, but will instead be phased in over several years, beginning with technology that Microsoft will release this year as "out of band" upgrades to Windows Server 2003. This news confirms that Blackcomb is effectively the next "Cairo," a project that began life in the mid-1990's as a major revision to Microsoft's enterprise server line, but ended up quite differently, its various components scattered to other teams and projects at the company. Cairo technology was rolled into the Windows 95 shell, Active Directory, and the WinFS file system that will debut in Longhorn, the Windows client version that will debut in 2005.

"Blackcomb will not be released in 3-4 years \[as a single product\]," Thompson said. "Instead, we will be rolling out additions to \[Windows Server 2003\] in a steady stream \[over time\]." In 2003 alone, Thompson noted, Microsoft will release a number of out-of-band upgrades to Windows Server 2003, many of which he said were part of the Blackcomb project. These technologies include the iSCSI initiator in June, NAS 3.0 in Q2 2003, Automated Deployment Services (ADS) in Q3 2003, Small Business Server 2003 in Q3 2003, Virtual Server in Q4 2003, and the AMD/64-bit version of Windows Server 2003, while will be delivered "in Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003 by the end of 2003," Thompson said.

"These out-of-band releases are effectively part of Windows Server," Thompson said, "and they will be serviced as part of Windows Server through the service pack stream. Innovation does not have to wait for major releases." As I noted in my Road to Gold series for Windows Server 2003 on the SuperSite for Windows, Microsoft has dramatically changed the way it develops software and the company has evolved its product roadmap to match. This new Blackcomb roadmap reflects that strategy and, perhaps as important, answers one of the key questions about how Microsoft will deliver the WinFS file system on the server. Now that the company has effectively de-productized Blackcomb, it can simply deliver WinFS as yet another out-of-band upgrade to Windows Server 2003, probably in synch with the Longhorn client release.

Post-Blackcomb, Microsoft still has plans for an-as-yet-unnamed major server release, which will include support for dynamic partitioning and other advanced features, Thompson said. No timetable for this release was provided.

UPDATE: A Microsoft representative tells me that Dave Thompson didn't actually say that there wouldn't be a Blackcomb server product, though that's what I heard, and how the transcript of his speech reads. But Microsoft says that the Blackcomb release of Windows Server will include iterations of the "out of band" technologies that are following the release of Windows Server 2003, and that Blackcomb is still the code-name for the next major Windows Server release. "The current plan of record calling for a Blackcomb server release has not changed," the representative noted.

OK. But here's how the transcript reads. "Here's the Windows Server road map. It shows the evolution from NT 4, Windows 2000, and then the product release we actually added one additional version, the Web Server edition, a focused Web application version of the server that costs less, but only runs Web applications, and then what I call Blackcomb, really is just a list of future technology areas, not to be released in three or four years, for example, but actually you'll see as I move onto the next slide, see that these are things which we're actually rolling out additions to the operating system at a pretty steady stream. This stream happens in just calendar year '03 ... So, that's just a set of things, what we call out of band releases, that is not at a major Windows release, but effectively part of Windows, delivered, you can load from the web the service as part of Windows through the Standard Service Pack stream."