Microsoft said it will release the third beta of the next version of Windows Server, code-named Longhorn, in the first half of 2007 at the same time it made a service pack for its predecessor Windoes Server 2003 available.

In May the company said it would release Longhorn beta 3 in early 2007, but did not say exactly when. But the product is still on track for its delayed release by the end of 2007 said Bob Visse, a senior director for Microsoft Windows Server marketing.

Beta 3 of Longhorn is expected to be feature complete and will be tweaked only for performance and quality control before the first release candidates of the product appear, he said.

Key new features in Longhorn include the ability for administrators to more easily manage the OS as well as enhanced security, Visse said.

Microsoft is today releasing a second service pack of patches and updates for Windows Server 2003, with technology that will help IT administrators prepare hardware running Windows Server for the deployment of Windows Vista, Visse added. Windows Vista, the long-awaited update to the Windows client, will be available to business customers at the end of the month.