Public Windows Server 2003 R2 beta set for next week

Second beta cycle will run until the fourth quarter, when the final version will ship

Microsoft next week plans to publicly release the second beta test version of Windows Server 2003 R2, an update to Windows Server that the company expects to ship in the fourth quarter of this year.

The software will be available for download on Microsoft's Web site, probably on Tuesday, a company spokeswoman said Thursday. The release will coincide with Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle and follows the limited release of the second beta on Thursday to a select group of testers via the Betaplace Web site.

A first beta test version of Windows Server 2003 R2 was released to about 1,500 testers in December. Microsoft expanded that pool to 2,800 early this year, but the first beta was still considered a "private" beta. The second beta will be a public beta and is set to run until the fourth quarter, when the final version of the software is scheduled to ship.

Windows Server 2003 R2 is an interim release of Windows Server built on top of Windows Server 2003 SP1, which was released in late March. R2 will include most of the feature packs Microsoft has released since the initial Windows Server 2003, as well as new storage management capabilities and features such as branch server management and Active Directory Federation Services.

The interim release is intended to fill the gap between Windows Server 2003, which shipped in May 2003, and Windows Server Longhorn, which is set to ship in 2007. Microsoft plans to release a major server update roughly every four years and an incremental update two to two-and-a-half years after each major release, the company said last year.

The R2 update will not be free for all users, Microsoft has said. Companies that bought individual licenses for earlier Windows Server products, including Windows Server 2003, will have to buy a new license for R2. Customers who have purchased Software Assurance, Microsoft's software maintenance plan, will receive the update at no extra charge.