TIDBITS FROM THE WINDOWS 2003 LAUNCH

The Windows Server 2003 launch was a surprisingly businesslike affair, with no celebrity or musical guests and a post-launch party featuring three bands that imitate famous musical groups. Looking younger, thinner, and healthier than he has in years, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kept the bluster to a minimum and cruised through his professionally produced keynote address. That Microsoft would want to present a more polished, staid image to the world for the Windows 2003 launch is understandable--after all, the product is aimed at businesses of all sizes. But it's a shame that the company felt it couldn't have celebrated publicly just a little bit. Anyway, job well done: After 3 long years of development, Windows 2003 is an impressive accomplishment.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE WINDOWS 2003 ADD-ONS?

Now that Windows 2003 has shipped, users are starting to ask about the many add-ons (or "out-of-band components," as Microsoft calls them) that will arrive in the coming months to give the product more varied functionality. The first add-on, Windows SharePoint Services (WSS--formerly SharePoint Team Services) lets users build collaborative Web sites and will release to manufacturing (RTM) this summer alongside Microsoft Office 2003. A free download, WSS was written entirely in ASP .NET and requires Windows 2003. Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server "v2.0," which lets enterprises build intranet portals and stitch together dozens of WSS sites, will ship at the same time, the company tells me. Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 will RTM in late June or early July and will ship later in the summer. Microsoft's (formerly Connectix's) Virtual Server beta should ship any day now, I'm told, with the final release expected late in 2003. (When I asked why the Connectix product was chosen over similar technology from VMware, Microsoft told me that Connectix had the better technology.) The first Microsoft SQL Server "Yukon" beta will ship by midyear.

A PEEK AT WINDOWS SMALL BUSINESS SERVER 2003

Microsoft hasn't talked up Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 much yet, although I've been working with a beta release for several weeks and expect people to be very excited about this product. SBS 2003 includes Windows 2003, Exchange 2003, Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000, and SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3); another, cheaper version that doesn't include SQL Server will also be available. During the launch, Ballmer showed off one of the product's coolest features, an as-yet-unnamed bit of functionality that lets users remotely access SBS 2003 through a Web browser and interact with a friendly list of links that does away with the technobabble. For example, you can access "Check my email" (instead of Use Outlook Web Access), "Connect to my computer at work," and "Join my remote computer to the corporate network." SBS is geared toward small businesses with 50 to 75 PCs, is completely upgradeable when the business grows, and is waiting for Exchange 2003 to RTM. Expect the final SBS 2003 release in late summer.

ITANIUM SALES READY TO CRANK

Intel's 64-bit Itanium family has received a lot of bad press, but this high-end processor clearly is set for huge sales. When I spoke with Microsoft's hardware partners yesterday, everyone was excited about the chip's capabilities and costs and felt that the introduction of Windows 2003 and SQL Server 2000 64-bit versions was going to put the hardware platform over the top. Even cagey Dell, which has yet to commit publicly to concrete 64-bit plans, revealed that it would have an Itanium 2 solution in the second half of 2003, although the company wouldn't discuss the configuration. And this week's announcement that two Itanium 2-based servers (both running Windows 2003 and SQL Server, incidentally) ranked number one and number two on the list of top-performing servers in the crucial TPC-C benchmark is turning heads. But the fact that this hardware outperforms what was previously considered the most powerful server hardware on the planet isn't the end of the story. Not only did the two Itanium 2 systems break the performance record, but they did so for the lowest price per transactions per minute (tpmC). Furthermore, the Itanium 2 has plenty of headroom, so these Intel-based systems are going to surge even higher, pushing the record further and further out of the hands of the UNIX-based competition. All the cracks about "Itanic" can now officially stop: The Itanium is real, and it's kicking butt and taking names. I think this week will one day be remembered as the turning point for Intel's 64-bit products.

THE DREADED "L-WORD"

One thing my associates and I noticed during the Windows 2003 launch was that Ballmer conspicuously avoided mentioning Linux, despite the fact that, at several points in his speech, he was obviously referring to Linux. But the suddenly slim CEO says the snub wasn't intentional, as he doesn't even worry about Microsoft's biggest competitor. "Linux is a clone of an operating system that is 20-plus years old," Ballmer said in a recent interview. "That's what it is. That is what you can get today, a clone of a 20-year-old system. I'm not saying that it doesn't have some place for some customers, but that is not an innovative proposition." One of the weirder things I was told at the launch was that Windows 2003 is a better upgrade from proprietary UNIX than Linux is because converting UNIX applications to Windows is easier and cheaper than converting them to Linux. I don't have any experience with converting applications, but that statement doesn't ring true somehow. Can anyone shed some light on that?

OFFICE 2003 GETS A BETA 2 REFRESH

Yesterday, Microsoft alerted me that it would release an interim beta of Office 2003 that addresses customer concerns about the Office System Beta 2 Kit 2003. Unlike a true beta release, however, the refresh will be available as a free download to existing Beta 2 users sometime in the next several weeks. The company didn't admit that the RTM of Office 2003 would slip, but the original RTM was set for early June and I learned that the product is currently on track to ship later this summer, so it's pretty clear that Office 2003 will ship later than expected. No matter: I'd rather see Microsoft get it right than ship it according to an arbitrary schedule.