Microsoft Moves Forward with Extended 64-bit Windows
by Alex Woodie
Microsoft got one step closer to issuing the final release of a new 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003 last week, when it posted Release Candidate 2 of Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions and Windows XP Professional x64 Editions, which are designed to run on the new X86 processors with 64-bit memory extensions, or x64, from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. At the same time, Microsoft released Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 RC2.
With new x64 processors from Intel and AMD, and new blade, rack, and tower servers based on these processors unveiled by IBM and Hewlett-Packard at LinuxWorld this week (see "HP Rolls Out New Opteron, Xeon Servers," "IBM Launches Faster 'Irwindale' Xeon Servers," and "Intel, AMD Launch New X86 Chips"), Microsoft has to be getting a little anxious about shipping a server operating system that can run on these new low-cost, industry-standard servers. While there aren't yet many 64-bit Windows applications, Microsoft doesn't want to cede an inch to Linux in this area, and is undoubtedly eager to start selling a version of Windows Server 2003 than can take advantage of 64-bit memory extensions.
New servers based on the new x64 chips from AMD and Intel aren't expected to ship until the end of the month, and Microsoft doesn't plan on being too far behind with Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions. Microsoft is still aiming to get the three new operating systems--Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions, Windows XP Professional x64 Editions, and Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, which are being developed together--out the door in the first half of 2005. Some are speculating that the new operating systems could be released before then, possibly as soon as April.
An early release date for these operating systems would be a big change from 2004, when the Redmond, Washington, company was beset with delay after delay. Development work for these closely related operating systems was put on the backburner last summer as Microsoft worked overtime to get Windows XP SP2 out the door. In December, Microsoft put out first release candidate for Windows with 64-bit extensions and Windows Server 2003 SP2. Windows Server 2003 Release 2, the next update to Windows Server 2003, still scheduled to ship in the second half of 2005, was released to beta in December as well.
Windows Server 2003 SP1 will contain similar security-related enhancements that Microsoft unveiled with Windows XP SP2 last summer, including role-based security set-up through a new Security Configuration Wizard; Post-Setup Security Updates, a new feature that blocks all incoming traffic to newly installed servers until the latest patches are downloaded and applied; an integrated Windows Firewall; support for data execution prevention hardware, to thwart the spread of viruses and assorted nasties; as well as stronger default settings, improved quarantine, new audits of Web server logs, and Web browser enhancements.