If you've been following my problems with PWS 4.0 beta 2, you'll be interested to know that I installed a fresh copy of NT Server and Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0 beta 2 on my second desktop machine (a P133 with 32MB RAM) and the results, quite simply, are incredible.

Folks, this is the real thing. I cannot stress enough how impressed I am with this program, which transcends being a simple Web server by also offering the following: Site Server Express (Web site usage and management), Microsoft Mail Server, Microsoft News Server, Microsoft Transaction Sever, Index Server 2.0 and more. All of these tools are managed through a central Explorer-like application called Microsoft Management Console, which will be included with Windows NT 5.0 as well.

IIS 4.0 installed without a hitch, though it took its time. The bare install of NT Server I had is probably an unrealistic scenario for many people, but the ease of installation was still appreciated. Currently, it should be noted that IIS 4.0 will not upgrade an existing install of IIS 2.0 or 3.0. Microsoft says that Beta 3 will offer this capability. Because I hadn't yet converted the partition to NTFS, I was unable to install the Mail Server, but I will add that later this week.

Feature-wise, it's impossible to know where to start. I know my way in and around IIS 3.0, both Web-based and Win32-based administration, but the Management Console offers so many options, my head was soon spinning. In short, every single feature you could want is offered, right down to permission access at the file, not directory level. It's just incredible. The Windows 95 PWS administration program ("Personal Web Manager") is just laughable in comparison.

As for enhancements to ASP/ADO, there is a SMTP mail component, which will be quite handy. I had heard that there was going to be a threaded discussion group component as well, but this doesn't seem to be the case. Rather, the News Server allows you to host your own newsgroups which can have a Web-based front-end, though it also requires that your clients have access to a dedicated news reader such as Internet News or Outlook Express. Though I haven't had time to play with it, there is also an ASP script debugger.

Internet Information Server 4.0 is huge. In a year marked by buggy software and almost-daily security updates to Windows NT, this program will stand out as Microsoft's greatest achievement of 1997. It's that good