WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF WINDOWS 2000?

October 13, 2000

FEATURES & COMMENTARY

San Diego, CALIF. — Users who have converted to Microsoft’s Windows 2000 say the operating system is a giant step forward for Microsoft that should do wonders for its reputation for reliability. But that improvement may be slow to gain recognition among information technology managers burned by its predecessor, Windows NT, with its perennial system crashes and infamous static blue screens.

No one is exactly sure how rapidly existing Microsoft customers are adopting Windows 2000, but it appears they are proceeding with caution. And analysts say both they and new customers will be even more cautious about adopting Windows 2000 Datacenter, the high end of the Windows 2000 server line, announced last month.

Microsoft ( http://www.microsoft.com ) for a year has been saying Windows 2000 is the operating system to move to, according to Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group. But rather than moving quickly, much of the market “is pushing back, and pushing back hard,” he says.

To get the high-end server editions of Windows 2000 accepted, Micro soft must appeal to different buyers. When Windows NT was launched in 1992 and 1993, it was quickly adopted by skilled business users who put it to use running local area networks and, often, their companies’ first Web sites, says Dick Sullivan, vice president of solutions and integration marketing in the Software Group at IBM, which does Microsoft systems work.

Now Microsoft is appealing to the information technology manager to use Windows 2000 and Advanced Server, a lighter version of the server operating system, in the company data center. And that manager wants to know how well it will run critical applications and whether it has been tested with the existing infrastructure, he says.

Managers who have switched to the new operating system report that it performs as promised. Still, Enderle points to the low volume of new PCs shipping with Windows 2000 on them. “The PC shipment numbers are in the submillion range, not millions as we expected” after eight months of availability, he says. Many PC manufacturers are putting more Windows 98 and NT on machines going out the door than Windows 2000, even though Windows 2000’s quality is “very good, it’s solid.”

International Data Corp. analyst Dan Kusnetzky says Microsoft spokesmen chastised him early this year when he predicted the adoption rate for Windows 2000 would be slow. It’s actually been a little faster than IDC predicted, he says.

He had forecast 1.5 million Windows 2000 Professional systems and 500,000 servers, including departmental servers, Advanced Servers and Data centers, would be installed this year. He thinks the numbers are actually 3.5 million to 4 million Professional or desktop editions and 750,000 to 1 million for the server systems. Even so, compared to the first year of Windows 95 and Windows NT, these numbers seem small, he says.

Microsoft announced June 27 that it expected Windows 2000 licenses to exceed 3 million by the end of June. Company officials were unavailable for comment on whether shipments are meeting its expectations for the year. But Enderle says they are not.

“The migration is well below expectations. Some hardware manufacturers don’t even offer Windows 2000 on all their models. They’re still offering Windows 98 and NT,” Enderle says. Windows 2000 Professional shipments are half of what he expected them to be, he says. The hardware indicator is an important one, since many users will upgrade their hardware along with a major operating system move like Windows 2000.

Still, not everyone was expecting great numbers from Microsoft in the first place. IBM offers consulting services for the Windows 2000 migration. “The uptake on Windows 2000 Server [including Advanced Server and Datacenter] is slow,” Sullivan say, “but not slower than we expected.”

Windows NT’s early success became a problem that continues to dog Microsoft. The company’s reputation suffered because of the operating system’s attempt to run an endless variety of add-on hardware. Not all third-party add-ons were compatible with each other, yet users mixed and matched as they saw fit. Some of the device drivers were poorly written. “Unstable device drivers from third parties represented one of Windows NT 4.0’s most notorious causes of failure,” says Tony Iams, vice president of research at consulting company D.H. Brown Associates ( http://www.dhbrown.com ), in his report “Windows 2000 Drives into the Datacenter.”

“Microsoft made a huge push for adoption of Windows NT, but that product was nowhere near ready for what it was asked to do. Now Microsoft is paying for it,” Enderle says.

Yet Windows NT users comprise the surest customer base for Windows 2000; its users are still expected to migrate to the new OS, eventually. To make the migration, they must plan for Active Direc tory, the security and directory system built into Windows 2000.

Adopting Active Directory “requires six to nine months of planning your directory strategy,” IBM’s Sullivan says. Directory services are designed to identify company assets wherever they lie on a company’s networks, helping corporate information managers keep track of people, places and things.

Active Directory is a latecomer to the directory market. Many corporations already have directory systems in place, but much of the benefit of migrating to Windows 2000 comes from the use of Active Directory.

Scott Newton, senior technical architect at gourmet cookie maker Otis Spunkmeyer, mapped out a migration to Windows 2000 in April, launched it in May and was finished migrating 600 systems in mid-June.

“It really stabilized our network. There have been very few help calls for machines going down, applications not opening or blue screens of death,” Newton says.

He should know. He’s the person responsible for Spunkmeyer’s migration in 63 locations across the country, and he uses Windows 2000 himself. “I’ve been running it since January on my laptop, and I’ve only had one blue screen. It happened as I was unplugging my camera and plugging in another device,” he recalls.

IBM helped Otis Spunkmeyer plan its migration, and the move came off without a hitch, Newton says. In addition, Spunkmeyer’s help desk experienced a 60 percent drop in calls for crashed desktop systems as a result of the move, he says.

Windows 2000 is also a noted improvement over Windows NT on laptops, given its greater functional ity for mobile workers, Sullivan says.

Windows NT “was a horrible mo bile product, one of the worst. It embarrassed a lot of folks,” Enderle says.

Nevertheless, many users will stick with NT a while longer because their applications have been thoroughly de bugged and are running fine. Parts of them must be rewritten to work with Active Directory and Windows 2000, Sullivan says.

Information technology managers are most likely to see Advanced Server and Datacenter as means of consoli dating their many Windows NT servers onto a single larger system. Windows 2000 Data center can support up to 32 processors, compared to NT’s four, and up to 64 gigabytes of main memory, compared to NT’s eight. As a result, it can function as a host for much larger database applications or work as a large application server behind a Web site, Sullivan says.

When Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer an nounced the launch of Windows 2000 Datacenter, he pointed to a Unisys ES7000 with 32 processors running the Windows 2000 operating system and said, unlike every Windows system before it, the system has “no single points of failure.” He added that it can be acquired “at one half the cost of a Sun Microsystems Enterprise 10,000,” another 32-processor machine.

The ability to consolidate NT servers is overdue, IDC’s Kusnetzky says. “With NT, people had a tendency to install 20 or 30 servers and spread their applications over them,” he says. In effect, they were hedging their bets that a single system failure wouldn’t penalize them heavily.

With the launch of Datacenter on Sept. 26, Microsoft also brought out the Windows 2000 versions of its SQL Server database and Exchange Server 2000 groupware, removing another barrier to the adoption of the Windows 2000 operating system . “It’s got a fairly rosy future,” Kusnetzky says.

To Spunkmeyer’s Newton, the future is now. He was able to execute a migration quickly because his organization was relying primarily on Windows 2000 Professional, with only a few copies of Windows 2000 Server to be installed. He likes what he sees so far, especially the drop in help calls.

In his opinion, Microsoft is moving beyond Windows NT’s reputation into a more dependable and reliable realm. “I’m thoroughly impressed,” he says.

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