According to an InfoWorld report, Microsoft has delayed the release of Windows .NET Server, the server family of products that was supposed to have accompanied Windows XP, until mid-2003. The delay is the most recent of several for the product, which Microsoft originally planned to ship before the end of 2001. The release has been a moving target: Microsoft has said, at various times, that Win.NET Server would ship in early 2002, during the first half of 2002, in the second half of 2002, and in early 2003.

"(Mid-2003) is the target, but as always security will drive the final decision," Enrique Murray, Microsoft's Latin America marketing manager, told InfoWorld. "We have security as the number-one priority, so that \[release\] date is totally security driven. We've established security checks all along the way."

Win.NET Server is a comprehensive product family that includes Win.NET Web Server, Win.NET Standard Server (formerly Windows 2000 Server), Win.NET Enterprise Server, Win.NET Datacenter Server (formerly Win2K Datacenter Server), and embedded editions, as well as an integrated suite called Small Business Server 2003 that's geared to small businesses. Because of constant delays, Microsoft has routinely updated the Win.NET Server roadmap; beta testers recently received a second post-beta 3 build, although the timing of the first release candidate (RC) build, originally scheduled for early summer, is suddenly up in the air.

Arguably, few enterprise customers will complain if Microsoft decides to take its time delivering a server product. But the constant delays have forced the company to push back its Longhorn project several times, and the impact of that delay will be far-reaching because Longhorn will include desktop versions analogous to XP Home and Professional Editions, in addition to server upgrades to Win.NET Server. So far the company has been able to maintain its yearly desktop OS upgrade cycle, which started in 1995. This year, a service pack release, XP Service Pack 1 (SP1), will fill the yearly upgrade role. But the gap between XP SP1 and Longhorn is growing daily, leading to speculation that Microsoft will create an XP Second Edition (SE) product so that the company can have a new desktop OS available for the holiday 2003 PC-buying season.

Another option would be to simply cancel the current Win.NET Server version and roll that product's feature set into Longhorn server or downloadable upgrades to Win2K Server, the current product family. Before this most recent Win.NET Server delay, Microsoft said that the Longhorn products--desktop and server--would ship by late 2004. Whether that's still the case is unclear.