Microsoft has released "near final" updates for Windows Server 2003.

Testing of Service Pack 1 (SP1) is almost complete - the second release candidates made available to beta testers earlier this week are the last test versions before its final release sometime before June.

Windows Server 2003 SP1 was originally slated for release by the end of last year, but Microsoft delayed it in October. It includes all the updates released for Windows Server 2003 since it shipped plus security, reliability and performance enhancements such as a new security configuration wizard.

SP1 is also the underlying technology for the Windows Server 2003 x64 releases and Windows Server 2003 R2 - an interim Windows Server release to be released at the end of the year. R2 will include most of the feature packs Microsoft released since the initial Windows Server 2003, new storage management capabilities and such features such as branch server management.

With its new 64-bit versions, Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, Microsoft is providing users with the option of running both 32-bit and 64-bit applications on the same system. The operating system is designed to work on newer 64-bit processors from AMD and Intel.

In preparing for final release of the products, Microsoft is asking hardware makers to submit products for the Windows XP Professional x64 Edition and Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions "Designed for Windows" logo programs. The logos flag the product as working with the Windows versions.

Windows Server 2003 SP1 Release Candidate 2 (RC2) is available for download from Microsoft's website.