Microsoft gave a sneak preview of the R2 update to Windows Server 2003 - due next year - at its Tech Ed conference in San Diego yesterday.

During a keynote by VP Andy Lees, he demonstrated an early version of R2, which has not yet reached beta. The demonstration included:

  • A hub and spoke topology model in concert with "remote differential compression" (RDC) technology to make branch communication more effective by reducing the amount of data transferred between the branch server and the main office server. RDC allows you to transfer only a change in a file when replicating instead of the entire file.
  • Client inspection and isolation technology to help shield a corporate network. Administrators can ensure a computer joining the network meets security and configuration requirements, such as up-to-date virus protection and patches.
  • Active Directory Federation Services, formerly codenamed TrustBridge, designed to allow users to federate identities between corporate boundaries.
  • Anywhere Access, a technology to give users access to e-mail and other services on a corporate network without the need for a VPN. Microsoft sees Anywhere Access as complementary to VPN, not a replacement.

However, the demonstrations were very quick and Microsoft offered little additional detail on the technologies shown.

At first glance, the R2 features look very interesting, said Peter Pawlak, a senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "It shows that they will have some really appealing new capabilities that will help span the transition to Longhorn Server. These aren't just some things that are nice to have," Pawlak said. However, R2 is over a year away, which means there could be many changes to the product before it ships. "It is all off in the middle of next year, we're not even at the beta stage," Pawlak said.

Windows Server 2003 shipped in April last year and Microsoft plans to deliver the first service pack, a bundle of bug and security fixes, for the software later this year. R2 is due in the second half of 2005 and in addition to offering new features, it will bundle in various feature packs that Microsoft has put out for Windows Server 2003 since its launch, such as Windows Rights Management Services and Windows SharePoint Services.

While service packs are available at no charge, the R2 update will not be, Microsoft has said. Companies that bought individual licences for earlier Windows Server products will have to buy a new licence for R2. After R2, Microsoft's server plans call for a major event in 2007 with the release of Longhorn Server.