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Microsoft Corp. still has yet to release a wide-scale beta of its next Windows Server release, code-named R2. But according to sources, the product is well on its way to being finalized, with packaging, licensing and support details already hammered out.

Microsoft officials said last month that R2 will ship in the latter half of 2005. To make that date, the company cut from the product such features as network-access protection and file sharing over HTTP, officials acknowledged.

But if it’s due relatively soon, why has R2 yet to go to beta?

R2 is expected to include some new features and functionality, but it won’t be much more than Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) plus some of the myriad Windows Server 2003 service packs that the company has shipped since April 2003 (the date it shipped Windows Server 2003), according to Microsoft partners.

The ultimate goal with R2, like other “interim” Windows releases, is to allow customers to incorporate it into their environments with relatively little testing, said partner sources who requested anonymity.

R2 will be such a relatively minor upgrade, sources said, that Microsoft is planning to swap it for Windows Server 2003 when it ships. The company isn’t planning to charge its volume-license customers for the product, and it won’t require new client-access licenses (CALs) for R2. (Users will be able to use the Windows Server 2003 ones they already have.)

Microsoft officials are not ready to talk specifics about R2, a company spokeswoman said.

This isn’t to say Microsoft isn’t adding some new capabilities to R2—or that customers should expect the R2 upgrade to “just work” with all their existing applications. As Windows XP Service Pack 2 customers found, not all their applications, including those from Microsoft itself, worked seamlessly with the latest Windows update.

Read the full story on Microsoft Watch: Windows Server ‘R2’ Details Begin to Leak.