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Wi-Fi Features for Windows XP, Server 2003

Microsoft has unveiled new provisioning and secure-sign-on services for connecting to wireless networks for Windows XP users as of the first quarter of 2004, a move that could entice more customers to upgrade their operating systems from prior versions such as NT and Windows 2000.

Called Wireless Provisioning Service (WPS), the new feature is designed to make it easier for mobile workers to connect to 802.11 hotspots or corporate wireless networks.

Microsoft said the WPS allows users of Windows XP to connect to Wi-Fi hot spots with a seamless sign-up process that includes support for wireless technology and connectivity in the Windows platforms such as wireless auto configuration, connection wizards, and wireless security features such as Protected Extensible Authentication (PEAP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) in Windows XP.

On the back end, Microsoft said Windows Server 2003, previously known as Windows .NET Server, would be shipping with wireless components fully integrated.

During the ITU World Telecom event in Geneva, the software giant also said wireless Internet service providers and corporate IT departments could install the back-end Wireless Provisioning Architecture free of charge with the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 during the first quarter of 2004 as well.

In addition, it claimed its Internet Authentication Service (IAS), known as the Microsoft RADIUS server and is included in Windows Server 2003, would reduce total cost of ownership by allowing administrators to deploy interoperable dial-up, virtual private network and wireless access of choice through standards and without the need for proprietary solutions.

"We are excited to further extend the existing support for wireless connectivity in the Windows platform," said Jawad Khaki, corporate vice president of Windows Networking and Communications at Microsoft.

"WPS for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 offer a more-secure standards-based platform for Wi-Fi network providers that can reduce customer acquisition and support costs, while enabling a more-secure, branded and easy-to-use experience for all mobile users of Windows XP."

Details on whether Microsoft was hewing to the common standards on wireless networking promoted by the industry group Wi-Fi Alliance, however, were unclear by presstime.

Joe Wilcox, Microsoft analyst for Jupiter Research, noted that the WPS release comes as Microsoft is making a major push around its server software upgrades.

"We're starting to see more vertical integration than in the past, so Microsoft is trying to drive more client services off the server," he said. "We see that in the case of the number of server enhancements in Office 2003" and in the number of server systems, such as Sharepoint, that have been renamed Office Sharepoint server.

"We're seeing more client-server activity going on with Windows and Office. The question, he added, is whether the new features will be available to users without having to pay new client access licenses with the WPS services.

Jupiter Research is owned by Jupitermedia Corp., the parent of this publication.