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Like Windows 2000, Windows .net, will appear in the Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter Editions when the series is released later this year, but the company also plans to release a cut-down Web Server Edition to attack Linux in the open source operating system's principal market. Although this edition has been on the cards for more than a year, Microsoft has not been trumpeting its arrival.
Tom Bittman, vice-president and research director at analyst firm Gartner, said Microsoft is caught between stemming the Linux flood and risking stifling sales of its current Windows products in the light of this cheaper, if not free, product. "If Microsoft markets the fact it will have it, it will be forced to spend a lot of time explaining what it is and what it isn't to avoid a slow-down in sales - and all before the product is launched. Better to keep it quiet," he said.
The growing backing behind Linux represents a threat to Windows, and Microsoft is starting to build up its guard. "Microsoft is very worried about Linux. In fact, it is perhaps more worried than it needs to be," said Bittman.
"In the early days, Microsoft's value proposition against Novell Netware was applications. The value proposition as Windows NT grew up against Unix was cost [due to Intel server hardware]. Linux eliminates this value proposition - if applications come to Linux. IBM is spending a lot of money to make this happen, and some suppliers, such as SAP, are aggressively promoting Linux as an application server. These are very real threats."
If Microsoft's aim is to scare people away from Linux by offering a competitive product that will fit on conventional servers, Internet appliances and blade servers, it may have to work harder to provide a stripped-down version of Windows. Its present plan is to release a standard version with certain features disabled.
A crucial factor for Internet server use is the size of the operating system footprint for smaller servers and the processor power required. At the moment, Web Server Edition will need a minimum speed of 133MHz, but past experience shows that it is usually best to stick to Microsoft's recommended CPU speed, which is 550MHz or higher.
The disabled features show that this will be a specially configured version for e-commerce, with no support for features that will be initiated through the server rather than by it, such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Internet Authentication Service (IAS), and with only limited support for virtual private networks.
Nor do current plans support clustering, which is a surprise given the opportunity that blade servers offer for providing clustered high performance or failover.
When the Windows .net server family is released later this year, Microsoft will be running straight at Linux's market, and the Web server will be a major battleground. "For those buyers who are interested in Linux because of price, this might push them back to Windows," said Bittman.
"However, many Linux users find the flexibility to clone as many images as they choose without worrying about a licence attractive. Others are anti-Microsoft or pro-Unix and will choose Linux regardless. So the answer is that Microsoft will win more deals against Linux - it will slow Linux somewhat, but it won't stop its growth."