A bit premature, perhaps, but Microsoft has officially ushered in the .NET era with the release of its first .NET Enterprise Servers, such as SQL Server 2000 and Exchange 2000 Server. In a move aimed right at high-end rivals such as Sun Microsystems, Microsoft also announced the immediate availability of its scalability and reliability champ, Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, which features support for 32 processors and 64 GB of RAM. Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer says that Tuesday's launch event marked the beginning of a new era of competition between Sun and Microsoft. "The .NET Enterprise Servers will start to erode the size of the market Sun plays in," Ballmer confidently stated before the launch event.

Microsoft announced a number of server products, including a surprising new entry, and some unexpected product delays. SQL Server 2000 and Exchange 2000 Server, for example, are already selling. But BizTalk Server 2000 has been delayed yet again, this time until 2001. BizTalk is a key member of the .NET family, as it works with .NET's key technology, XML, at a very low level. "We ship based on quality, not based on date," group product manager Barry Geoffe said of the delay. Microsoft also announced a new product, called Mobile Information 2001 Server, which will securely deliver real-time data from behind corporate firewalls to personal digital assistants, cellular phones, and other mobile devices. Host Integration Server 2000 and Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000 shipped Tuesday, while Commerce Server 2000 and Application Center 2000 will ship by the end of the year, the company said.

In his two-hour keynote address, Ballmer alluded to the news earlier in the day that the Supreme Court had declined to hear his company's appeal, a decision that Microsoft's eagerly sought. "I had a hard time today explaining that this was the big news of the day, let alone of the past decade," Ballmer said of the .NET server launch. Ballmer noted that Microsoft's four key product areas going forward were enterprise servers, business desktops, consumer products, and a "nascent" market for non-PC products such as mobile devices, set-top boxes, PDAs, and the like