At a Los Angeles "Heroes Happen Here" launch event today, Microsoft will officially launch Windows Server 2008 as well as two related products, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008. Windows Server 2008 is, of course, the next version of Microsoft's highly successful server OS, while SQL Server 2008 is the next version of the company's database server; SQL 2008 won't actually ship until the third quarter. Visual Studio 2008 is a PC and Web development suite that first debuted in late 2007.

So why launch these three products together, especially when one has been available for several months and another won't ship until after mid-2008? All three products are part of what Microsoft calls a product waves, and are interrelated in pervasive ways. None are actually dependent on the others, Microsoft says, but all work better when used together. Years ago, the company used the term "Longhorn wave" to describe these products as well as related client-side products like Windows Vista and Office 2007.

Arriving years later than originally anticipated, Windows Server 2008 nonetheless comes with none of the emotional baggage of the similarly delayed Vista, which has seen excellent sales but suffered a bewildering amount of criticism in its first year on the market. Businesses hoping to roll out Windows 2008 aren't complaining about schedules or feature sets, however: Corporate deployment schedules are, after all, spread out longer than desktop deployments anyway, and Windows 2008 includes a surprising array of new and useful technologies.

From an industry perspective, the biggest news with Windows 2008 is that it marks the real beginning of the 64-bit software era. Like Vista, most Windows 2008 product editions are being made available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, but because compatibility issues are far less prevalent on the server than they are on the desktop, Windows 2008 will likely be the first Microsoft OS that ships more copies in 64-bit form than 32-bit. Helping matters is the fact that the 64-bit versions of Windows 2008 are more capable than the 32-bit versions, offering unique features like the Hyper-V virtualization platform and more capacity for RAM and CPUs. And Microsoft says this is the last Windows Server release that will even ship in 32-bit versions: The next version will be 64-bit only.