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Microsoft has released the first public Beta version of Windows Server ‘Longhorn’ Beta 3 which can be downloaded from here. This is part of what Microsoft is referring to as the ‘Second Wave of Innovation’ to be delivered during the next 12 months. It started with Vista and Office 2007, continues with Longhorn, and will carry on with Visual Studio ‘Orcas’ and SQL Server ‘Katmai.’

What this announcement means is that developers and the curious who are not TechNet subscribers can, at long last, get their hands on a legal copy of Longhorn to play with. The big question is why bother? Well Microsoft is claiming that when it comes to such things as the automation of daily management tasks, increased availability and better security it makes for big improvements on Windows Server 2003R2.

Being a security man myself, let me focus here for moment. There is much to be applauded in the work that Microsoft has done to reduce the server footprint and what it refers to as the ‘potential attack surface’ with the help of the new Server Core installation option. Not to mention the ongoing health monitoring and compliance via myriad new features including Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP), Read-Only Domain Controllers and the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security.

Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.0, the newest version of Microsoft’s Web server, also gets something of a security makeover with a more extensible platform for efficiently managing and reliably hosting Web applications and services as the result. Which reminds to remind you that Microsoft has also announced an IIS7 Go Live license, enabling users to host Web applications and .NET 3.0 Web services on Windows Server “Longhorn” Beta 3 in live production environments.

Which is kind of cool don’t you think?

So what else is new? Remote access features including Terminal Services Gateway, Terminal Services Easy Print and Terminal Services RemoteApp help to provide end users with more scalable remote access to centralized applications and server resources. And the simplified failover clustering, dynamic partitioning and auto-tuning networking functionality should be welcomed by anyone looking to improve availability and reliability in the real world.

Here’s a helpful bullet list of new and improved features and functionality to help you decide whether downloading, installing and evaluating Beta 3 is for you:

  • Windows PowerShell is now included in the product.
  • Active Directory Federation Services improvements allow customers to implement new policies and make it easier to set up a relationship between trusted partners.
  • The Server Core installation option now comes with additional roles and enhanced functionality, such as print services and Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services.
  • The Server Manager console includes additional remote administration tools to provide a more integrated management environment.
  • Windows Firewall with Advanced Security, now on by default, provides a persistent and more secure environment beginning at installation.
  • NAP is integrated with Microsoft Update and Windows Update to enable administrators to decide which updates are critical and set policies accordingly. It also has a new administrative interface for simplified setup, scalability and better performance.

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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