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IT administrators and business desktop managers can expect many new releases from Microsoft this year. These are the most likely to make waves in 2007.

Virtual PC 2007

This update to Microsoft’s virtualisation software is currently in public beta and in this release, you get support for virtualisation assisted by your processor and the ability to use Windows Vista as the host, the guest or both. The final release of Virtual PC 2007 should be in the second half of 2007.

Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2

This service pack has been in beta for a while and is now at the release candidate stage. With this release, you get a roll up of all critical and security hot fixes but you also get support for Windows Deployment Services, a necessary installation if you want to deploy installations of Windows Vista on clients connected to your network.

This release appears to be well on track, and the target, according to the Windows Service Pack Road Map, is the first quarter of 2007, so you should see this available for download (and, of course, slipstreamed into new channel copies of Windows Server 2003) within the next couple of months.

Longhorn Server

The Longhorn Server is likely the best release of Windows Server to date. Microsoft has really done a lot of things right. The security is easier, management is better and needs are anticipated and addressed. The team has taken the best core code improvements from Vista, ensuring stability while adding great features. This is one release that IT managers going to want to deploy immediately in some scenarios, and eventually to the rest of your operation as well. Expect Longhorn Server in the second half of the year, probably in the fourth quarter.

Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista

Details are still sketchy on what this service pack will include, mainly because the gold – or RTM – release still has yet to reach the majority of consumers (business customers and volume license agreement participants have had access to Vista code since mid-November). However, one can expect any security or critical updates for Vista that are released to be rolled up in typical service pack fashion, along with a couple of other features (maybe EFI support instead of being stuck booting a BIOS).

Expect Vista Service Pack 1 in the fourth quarter of this year, although this may be a near-miss push back to 2008 given how development on Longhorn Server goes.

Service Pack 3 for Windows XP?

Microsoft has reported in 2006 that Windows XP Service Pack 3 would be much delayed. It was widely anticipated that a service pack for Windows XP would ship before Windows Vista itself was released to the public, given that the last major update on Windows XP was in the summer of 2004.

Now, on the Windows Service Pack Road Map page, Microsoft is indicating that Service Pack 3 for Windows XP is due in the first half of 2008. But pressure from the public, who will have at that point gone at least three and a half years using an operating system that’s been updated only with patches, may cause Microsoft to bow and release the service pack in late 2007.

Windows Home Server

This particular item isn’t as much for business purposes but it’s still a great idea for IT people on their off-hours, aimed at people multiple computers at home. There’s quite an untapped market in providing server-based services and better management and sharing among a group of home computers, which was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show, is a novel answer to a nagging problem. It centralises management, backup, and file and printer sharing, and may at some point assist in streaming audio and visual media to and from different computers. Picture an Xbox Extender, supersized and ready to talk with multiple machines. This product is still in its infancy, but it’s due at the end of 2007 as well.