Microsoft has delayed the release of the Longhorn server again.

Earlier this year, it projected the initial beta would emerge in the first half of 2005. But that has now been put back to the second half of the year.

"We feel good about that date, and we'll drive forward to that beta process," Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Windows Server division, said this month. "We clearly have more clarity on Longhorn beta dates."

Earlier this month, Microsoft made the "release candidate" versions of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and a companion release of SP1 targeted specifically at systems based on Itanium available. Commercial shipments of the SP1 releases are officially scheduled to start in the first half of next year, but Muglia said he expects the updates to be ready by March.

Also this month, Microsoft put out the first beta of an interim Windows Server 2003 release, codenamed R2, that bundles together various feature packs. A second beta of R2 is due in the first half of 2005, and the commercial release in the second half, according to Muglia.

R2 will replace the initial version of Windows Server 2003, but Muglia said existing Windows Server 2003 users should move to R2 only if they need the new features that it incorporates. "We're not asking people to upgrade," he said.

Muglia said users will still be able to purchase existing products such as the Visual Studio 2005 runtime and SharePoint Services separately from R2. "But in general, our goal moving forward is to incorporate those things into these update releases," he said.

Microsoft also plans to ship R2 editions of Windows Storage Server and Windows Small Business Server in the second half of next year, as well as the Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition, Muglia said.