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Microsoft offers beta of Windows Server 2012 Essentials

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Microsoft made the beta release of Windows Server 2012 Essentials available for download Wednesday, but some customers are already miffed about the changes the new product brings.

As Microsoft's David Fabritius wrote in a July 5 blog post, Windows Server 2012 Essentials is now a full-fledged member of the Windows Server product family, but it's really just a rebranded version of Windows Small Business Server Essentials, Microsoft's stripped-down server suite aimed at tiny companies.

"We believe Windows Server 2012 Essentials is the most affordable and easy-to-use server solution for small businesses to date," Fabritius said. "It is an ideal first server, and can also be used as the primary server in a multi-server environment for small businesses."

The problem, say some customers, is that the Essentials product is far too wimpy even for many small businesses, and now that the full Small Business Server and Windows Home Server products have been axed from the Windows Server line-up, they'll be forced to upgrade to the more costly Standard edition.

For starters, the Essentials version is limited to 25 users and 50 devices. Customers who grow beyond those caps need to purchase an upgrade to Windows Server 2012 Standard.

In addition, unlike the full Small Business Server, the Essentials product does not bundle Exchange Server or SharePoint Server. Customers who need mail and web app services must either provide them themselves (on a separate server), use a hosted service provider, or sign up for one of Microsoft's cloudy Office 365 packages.

That move, in particular, has loyal Small Business Server customers howling. "A lot of businesses still NEED on-premise exchange, and the cost for providing that functionality has just gone through the roof," grumbled one commenter on Fabritius's blog, who signed his feedback as "Nathan K." Other comments were almost universally negative.

But it's not all downside. Assuming you don't need to support more than 25 users, Essentials 2012 integrates a few powerful new technologies, including the Storage Spaces storage virtualization subsystem from Windows Server 2012 and the File History continuous-backup feature from Windows 8. Microsoft has made some of these features easier to manage in Essentials 2012 by integrating them with additional wizards.

Further bolstering Redmond's cloudy ambitions, the Windows Server 2012 family bundles support for the new Microsoft Online Backup Service, which provides off-site storage via Windows Azure.

What's more, Microsoft says it's working on providing new ways to administer Windows Server, including an improved Remote Web Access application, a native Metro control app for Windows 8, and an updated client for Windows Phone.

Microsoft has said it will release Windows Server 2012 a month ahead of Windows 8, which leaves only about a month from now before the code will be released to manufacturers – so don't expect the final product to differ too much from the beta.

Customers who don't meet Essentials 2012's strict user cap may wish to stick with the current Windows Small Business Server product for the time being, however. Although it will be the last such offering from Microsoft, it will remain available through the OEM channel until December 31, 2013. ®

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