Windows Server 2008, Vista SP1 Released to Manufacturing

Two OSes closely tied together

Microsoft today announced that two of its most important products of the last half-decade are complete and ready to be shipped.

Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista Service Pack 1 were released to manufacturing (RTM), marking a dual milestone in the history of both products. It also means that Windows 2008 will be officially shipping by the "Global Launch Wave" of enterprise products on Feb. 27. Others include Visual Studio 2008, released last year, and SQL Server 2008, which was recently pushed back to Q3.

Windows 2008 marks the first major new release of a Windows Server OS since Windows Server 2003. It's also one of Microsoft's most tested products ever: a Microsoft press release stated that more than two million beta and evaluation versions were obtained.

It's a significantly overhauled OS in a number of ways, most of which involve enhanced enterprise abilities. Some of the major changes include:

  • Windows PowerShell. PowerShell is a command-line scripting environment that allows most functionality in Windows 2008 to be automated.
  • Server Core. Server Core is a stripped-down version of the OS tuned for specific tasks, like Web serving, DNS management or print serving. It has a smaller footprint and better performance than a full-blown version of Windows 2008.
  • Network Access Protection (NAP). NAP is a security environment that protects a network by requiring certain standards to be met before a computer is allowed to join a network; for example, a laptop running Windows XP that isn't patched to a certain level will be rejected by the domain.
  • Hyper-V. Hyper-V is a built-in hypervisor for virtualization. Virtualization is the process of separating software from the underlying hardware. It allows, for example, multiple operating systems to be run on a single physical computer, or multiple copies of a single OS to be run on one computer.

Windows 2008, known throughout much of its development history by the codename "Longhorn", was much delayed, and had a key early feature, the information storage and retrieval technology known as WinFS, ultimately scrapped.

An interesting blog posting the morning of RTM described the mood of the server team just prior to the release. "In the final days leading up to RTM, the tone in the war room meetings was calm, almost too calm because there were minimal bugs to resolve and final testing went very smoothly. We focused on testing of the code changes made in Nov/Dec to make sure nothing regressed. Hundreds of system component teams across the Windows division and Microsoft performed their escrow test passes and signed off. The last important step was to ensure our deployment customers, OEMs, and Microsoft IT were satisfied and had no major issues." The author of the post was anonymous.

Windows 2008 has been closely tied to its desktop counterpart, Vista, since the beginning. Vista, released to the public a little more than a year ago, has had a rocky history. Microsoft is counting on SP1 to be a turning point in its acceptance by corporations and the public in general.

The two OSes largely share the same codebase, and were developed to work tightly together. But Vista has been a sales disappointment for Microsoft, despite pronouncements of its popularity.

Many complaints had to do with a lack of applicationcompatibility. A blog posting on the Vista team Website by Mike Nash, corporate vice-president of Windows Product Management, acknowledged the problem:

"When we first released Windows Vista last year, there were lots of customers who had great experiences, but some had issues finding applications that worked well on Windows Vista; others had problems finding the right device drivers for some of the hardware devices that they used."

Vista SP1 will cure a lot of those problems. Additional upgrades include reliability and performance improvements; increased ease of deployment; and Kernel Patch Protection Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which will make it easier for third-party security developers to integrate their products with Vista.

Another change unveiled in SP1 relates to local search. In response to a legalchallenge from Google, Microsoft made it easier to find third-party tools for searching a local desktop. Microsoft's version, called Instant Search, will now be on a more even footing with offerings from companies like Google.

Along with those changes, another major reason for Microsoft to be hopeful about increased adoption of Vista with SP1 relates to tradition. Normally, a large percentage of companies wait until the first service pack of a new Microsoft OS before they will consider putting it into production. There is always a certain amount of wariness about the buginess of a first release of a product as complex as Vista, and it's assumed, fairly or not, that the bugs will have mostly been squashed with the first service pack.

According to a blog posting on Microsoft's TechNet Website, Windows 2008 will be available for commercial purchase March 1. Microsoft's Nash listed several different timeframes for the availability of Vista SP1.

In mid-March, Vista SP1 will be released to Windows Update and Microsoft's download center. About a month later, SP1 will start to be pushed out to automatic download customers. Also sometime in April, versions with languages that weren't supported in with the Windows Update release in March -- English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese -- will be RTMed.

-- Keith Ward