Win.NET Server RC1 and the Laptop of the Month

Microsoft offers free download of Win.NET Server RC1

Late last week, Microsoft finally unveiled its oft-delayed Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) Release Candidate 1 (RC1), which includes near-final builds of its next-generation Windows Server family of products. The company is making the Standard and Enterprise Editions of Win.NET Server RC1 available for free download as part of the Win.NET Server Customer Preview Program (CPP), substantially increasing the number of people who will have a chance to kick the tires on this new OS before Microsoft releases it to the public early next year.

Win.NET Server is a difficult product to categorize. Unlike Windows 2000 Server, this version isn't a huge architectural change from previous versions and won't require the same planning, training, and testing investments. Instead, Win.NET Server is a minor upgrade to Win2K Server that you can easily integrate into existing networks. One big change, however, is Win.NET Server's support for Windows NT 4.0 upgrades. Microsoft realizes that a lot of customers have been reluctant to upgrade to Win2K—generally because of intricate NT domain structures or the complexity of understanding the many changes in the Win2K release. To help these users, Win.NET Server has many tools and additions that ease NT 4.0 migration.

Win.NET Server's complexity lies more in the number of small changes it supplies than the few sweeping changes we saw last time around. Recently, I accompanied several writers and editors from Windows & .NET Magazine to a 3-day Win.NET Server Reviewers Workshop near Seattle. Each day, we came away with the sort of glazed-over look that accompanies a student placed one level too high in school: Microsoft had gone for the technical jugular, hammering home the many ways that this product is technically superior, world-class, and ready to take on all comers at any level of functionality.

I find it hard to peg down the most important enhancements in Win.NET Server, but here's my list of what I consider the most significant improvements:

  1. Win.NET Server is more secure. Win.NET Server is the first Microsoft OS to benefit from the Trustworthy Computing code review and will ship with many of its unnecessary services turned off by default. Bravo to Microsoft for finally addressing these security issues and further kudos for providing warnings to the user when potentially harmful features are turned on.
  2. Win.NET Server is easier to configure and manage. Technically savvy administrators hate wizards, but you should give the wizards in this product a chance: The new roles-based Configure Your Server Wizard lets you assign roles such as Web server or File server to each Win.NET Server after installation, and lets you manage those roles from a central management console.
  3. Win.NET Server has a more mature Active Directory (AD). In Win.NET Server, AD supports numerous customer-request features, such as domain rename and cross-forest trust. AD has no major changes, just several small changes that make the transition to Win.NET Server easier, especially for companies that haven't upgraded from NT 4.0 yet.
  4. Win.NET Server performs better than Win2K Server. Microsoft says that Win.NET Server performs 1.5 to 2 times as fast as Win2K Server on the same hardware; if true, this Windows upgrade might be the first one that doesn't require a hardware upgrade. We'll see.
  5. Win.NET Server covers all the bases. With this version, Microsoft has dramatically increased the number of Windows Server editions, giving the product a wider range of uses (or in Microsoft-speak, "more scalable"). These editions range from low-end blade Web servers to the biggest 64-bit servers on the planet, supporting 256GB of RAM and 32 processors.
  6. Win.NET Server reduces the number of times you need to reboot, either by choice or not. Most OS upgrades, including hot fixes, no longer require reboots, and a new Reliability Service—previously used inhouse at Microsoft—tracks any problems you might have and locates the source.
  7. Win.NET Server is more manageable. The OS supports Remote Installation Services (RIS) for the rapid installation of a small number of servers, Windows Update and AutoUpdate, a new Group Policy Management Console (shipping right after Win.NET Server through a Web download, Microsoft says), a Resultant Set of Policies (RSoP) Wizard that lets you test policy changes before committing them, more command-line tools, headless server mode, emergency server access capabilities, and numerous other management improvements.

I'll look more closely at Win.NET Server RC1 in the near future, but in the meantime, check out the exhaustive overview of the product on the SuperSite for Windows.

And if you're interested in the Win.NET Server CPP, head over to the Microsoft Web site for the free downloads.

Laptop of the Month: Fujitsu Lifebook S Series
This month's laptop—the Fujitsu Lifebook S—is frustratingly close to being the perfect mobile companion, but a few foibles mar an otherwise perfect road warrior design. The Lifebook S6010 I tested ships in an attractive, thin, light package similar to the subnotebook models I prefer. But the similarities end with the unit's lithe 3.75 pound weight: Somehow, Fujitsu has squeezed a 13.3" XGA screen and internal DVD/CD-RW combination drive into the unit as well, an amazing achievement for a machine in this class. The unit bristles with the ports that matter: The S series includes two USB ports; FireWire, modem, Ethernet, and various sound ports (including Dolby Headphone support), and one PC Card slot that also serves as a Smart Card reader. A port replicator is also available, and the unit ships with built-in 802.11b wireless support, a feature all laptops should now include.

The unit is powered by a 1GHz Pentium III-M processor, can accept up to 1GB of RAM, and ships with up to a 40GB hard disk. But the S series is crippled by two problems. First, the video subsystem shares up to 8MB of the main system memory, so the device offers substandard performance on anything more demanding than Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. DVD movies, for example, are difficult to watch on the device because of constant stutters and display problems. This poor video performance is further frustrating because of the excellent built-in Dolby Headphone support.

Second, the Lifebook S6010's battery life isn't what I had hoped for. I had only 2 hours of juice while working with Microsoft Office applications and far less watching a DVD movie. This type of battery life was the norm about 18 months ago, but I expect more today, especially for such an otherwise portable machine. Fujitsu does offer a hot-swappable battery for the combination drive bay, raising the battery life to a reported 8 hours (I didn't test this option), but this feature negates the benefits of having an internal combination drive in the first place.

However, even with the Lifebook S6010's few shortcomings, its $1800 street price is excellent, given its feature set, weight, and expandability. If you're not driven by high-end graphics, and you want a single, light and capable machine, the Lifebook S6010 delivers.

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