It's that time of year, when budgets are planned, needs are assessed and technology departments everywhere look toward Microsoft to see what's coming down the pipe in the new year. Here's what IT administrators and business desktop managers can expect from the software giant in 2007, along with a couple of surprises slated for 2008 that might pop up this year as a holiday gift.
Virtual PC 2007
This update to Microsoft's virtualization software is currently in public beta (go here to get access to the bits to try it out yourself) and in this release, you get support for virtualization assisted by your processor and the ability to use Windows Vista as the host, the guest or both. The final release of Virtual PC 2007 should, aptly, be in the second half of 2007.
Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2
This service pack has been in beta for a while and is now at the release candidate stage. With this release, you get a roll up of all critical and security hot fixes, but you also get support for Windows Deployment Services, a necessary installation if you want to deploy installations of Windows Vista on clients connected to your network.
This release appears to be well on track, and the target, according to the Windows Service Pack Road Map, is the first quarter of 2007, so we should see this available for download (and, of course, slipstreamed into new channel copies of Windows Server 2003) within the next couple of months.
I've been writing a lot recently on Windows Longhorn Server, and I think it's the best release of Windows Server to date. That might not sound like much. After all, isn't that what we all expect? But Microsoft has really done a lot of things right.
Security is easier, management is better, needs are anticipated and addressed, and so on. The team has taken the best core code improvements from Vista and baked them for almost an additional year, ensuring stability while adding great features. This is one release that you're going to want to deploy immediately in some scenarios, and eventually to the rest of your operation as well. Expect Longhorn Server in the second half of the year, probably in the fourth quarter.
Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista
Details are still sketchy on what this service pack will include, mainly because the gold -- or RTM -- release still has yet to reach the majority of consumers (business customers and volume license agreement participants have had access to Vista code since mid-November). However, one can expect any security or critical updates for Vista that are released to be rolled up in typical service pack fashion, along with a couple of other goodies (maybe EFI support instead of being stuck booting a BIOS) and new features.
Expect Vista Service Pack 1 in the fourth quarter of this year, although this may be a near-miss push back to 2008 given how development on Longhorn Server goes.
Service Pack 3 for Windows XP?
Microsoft has reported a couple of times in 2006 that Windows XP Service Pack 3 would be much delayed from its original track. It was widely anticipated that a service pack for Windows XP would ship before Windows Vista itself was released to the public, given that the last major update on Windows XP was in the summer of 2004.
Now, on the Windows Service Pack Road Map page, Microsoft is indicating that Service Pack 3 for Windows XP is due in the first half of 2008. But will the pressure from the public, who will have at that point gone at least three and a half years using an operating system that's been updated only with patches, cause Microsoft to bow and release the service pack in late 2007? Or will the company's entire focus at that point be on delivering the first service release for Vista and the release to manufacturing of Longhorn Server? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling we'll need to wait until 2008 to see an update to Windows XP.
Windows Home Server
This particular item isn't as much for business purposes, but it's still a great idea for IT people on their off-hours. How many of you have multiple computers at home? How many of you actually run a Windows domain at home?
Don't feel alone. There's quite an untapped market in providing server-based services and better management and sharing among a group of home computers, and Windows Home Server (which was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show) is a novel answer to a nagging problem. It centralizes management, backup, and file and printer sharing, and may at some point assist in streaming audio and visual media to and from different computers. Picture an Xbox Extender, supersized and ready to talk with multiple machines. This product is still in its infancy, but it's due at the end of 2007 as well.
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Windows IT Pro magazine, PC Pro and TechNet Magazine. He also speaks worldwide on topics, ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is currently an editor at Apress LLC, a publishing company specializing in books for programmers and IT professionals.