Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate Essentials available now

[Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Joe Nalewabau from Windows Server Essentials Team]

Great news! We reached another important milestone on the road to the final release of Windows Server 2012 Essentials: the Release Candidate (RC) is available now for download and evaluation.

If you haven’t started exploring the product yet, this new pre-release version is an ideal time to begin. Customer and partner feedback on the Beta release has helped us prioritize the changes we have made—so thanks to everyone who provided feedback to us.

Here are some of the major changes in the RC:

  • Increased support for importing your own SSL certificates. Previously, customers had to do a lot of work to configure domains obtained in our domain wizard by using SSL certificates that were acquired outside of our domain wizard. We have now updated our wizard, which should make this process much simpler.
  • Installation of only critical setup updates during setup. One of the things that all Microsoft teams care about is getting customers up and running as quickly as possible. With the RC release we have changed our logic to only install critical setup-related updates during setup time. This might not seem to be a big issue if you only occasionally install Windows Server 2012 Essentials, but to partners that install Windows Server 2012 Essentials often, this change will make setup faster and more predictable. Note that customers will continue to select the update strategy that they want to use after the server has been set up.
  • Windows SBS Best Practices Analyzer (BPA) changes. We have updated the BPA rules to include the latest set of rules and have also made it possible to ignore specific BPA rules by using our UI.
  • Office 365 changes. We have now made it easier to import existing Office 365 users into Windows Server 2012 Essentials.
  • Verified DHCP supported. Windows Server 2012 Essentials supports turning on the DHCP role and setting a static IP address for the server.

We are now turning our sights towards the Windows Server 2012 Essentials release to manufacturing (RTM). The other Windows Server 2012 editions released to manufacturing at the beginning of August. Our goal has been to release Windows Server 2012 Essentials to manufacturing and make it generally available by the end of 2012, and we remain committed to this target.

In addition, in the next few weeks we are going to release some additional software that works with our RC release:

  • Windows 8 companion app. Customers will be able to access Windows Server 2012 Essentials through a number of different client apps: a Remote Web Access web browser, our Windows Phone 7 app, and the brand new Windows 8 companion app. We are especially excited about the Windows 8 app because it not only makes it easy to access files and folders on the server, but also supports offline access.
  • Windows Phone app. We have updated our existing Windows Phone app to work with Windows Server 2012 Essentials. The phone app now allows customers to access files and folders on the server.

We will use this blog to announce the availability of these releases as they become available. Stay tuned…