While we often criticize Microsoft - and often deservedly - I'd like to take the time today to thank the company. Specifically, to thank it for the early Christmas present.On Dec. 6, Microsoft announced that Windows Server 2003 R2, the much-anticipated update to the two-year-old server operating system, was being released to manufacturing (RTM).It's not the actual operating system I'm thanking Redmond for (although there are some very good new things in it), but the timing: By delaying the RTM until December, the company assured that no copy would reach the hands of a network manager until at least late January. That means that instead of spending the year-end holidays toiling in a hot (well, probably cold, actually) server room wondering if the cryptic dialog box on the screen was an actual error, a warning or simply a notice that something had changed, you can spend that time with your friends and family, your spouse, your significant other, your kids, your parents and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins in the annual rite of celebration. While the blinking LEDs in the server room might resemble a Christmas display (if you squint), they're no substitute for a large slice of Aunt Mabel's fabled fruitcake or Uncle Nathan's infamous eggnog.It's not that you'll want to put R2 into production as soon as you get it, though. At least I hope not. This release definitely needs to be tested in the lab first, perhaps for three months or so, to be sure that the new technologies (and the changes in old ones) aren't going to cause more trouble than they cure.As we get closer to the actual ship date for R2, I'll elaborate on more details of the changes and improvements. For now, though, I'll only say that - unless it breaks some business critical application you're running - you will want to upgrade to R2. Now go have another glass of eggnog. Happy Holidays!