The race is now on, as Microsoft released the first publicly available test version of Windows Server, code-named “Longhorn” as Beta 3. 

The release allows you to evaluate the new features, designed to give you increased control, flexibility and protection, and is available for download today.   The final version of Windows Server “Longhorn” is on track for release in the second half of this year.

Whilst there are lots of new features in the "Longhorn" server, one of the most interesting for universities may be the extension of the capabilities of Network Access Protection (NAP). NAP is integrated with Microsoft Update and Windows Update to enable administrators to decide which updates are critical and set policies accordingly. What it will allow you to do is have better control over PCs and laptops connected to your network. In the commercial environment this is a useful feature, but in Higher Ed, where 80%+ of your students have their own, personally-owned, laptop it could be the thing that keeps your network stable and running! Typically businesses just ban users from connecting their own devices to the network, but with the high ownership of student laptops, we've probably reached the tipping point where that isn't going to work for you. And where to effectively run your service, you are going to need to make network provision for user-owned devices. With NAP you can mount much more effective 'border protection'

Other new and improved features in Beta 3 include the following:

  • 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.

Get the beta, or find out more, here. 

As always, this public beta is not supported for use in a production environment, so you'll need to find a server sitting in the corner of a lab somewhere, and fire it up on that.