Microsoft Dumps NT Name for Windows 2000

Microsoft Corp. unveiled plans to retire the Windows NT name with the next release of the 5-year-old product, previously referred to as Windows NT 5.0. Instead, Microsoft will call its family of business-oriented operating systems Windows 2000 and redefine the boundaries between the individual product lines.

So long NT.

Microsoft Corp. unveiled plans to retire the Windows NT name with the next release of the 5-year-old product, previously referred to as Windows NT 5.0. Instead, Microsoft will call its family of business-oriented operating systems Windows 2000 and redefine the boundaries between the individual product lines.

"It’s more consistent to have the 2000 naming," said Brad Chase, Microsoft’s vice president of Windows marketing and developer relations. In announcing the change at an Oct. 27 press conference in San Francisco, Chase said a lot of thought went into the decision: "While we plan to ship the product in 1999, the year 2000 is a significant issue for our customers. It’s also important to recognize that, building on what we’ve done on Windows NT 4, this is a product that can usher you into the next millennium."

For the most part, the new names simply replace those planned for version 5.0 of the product line: Windows NT Workstation 5.0 becomes Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT Server 5.0 will be called Windows 2000 Server and Windows NT Server 5.0 Enterprise Edition will be named Windows 2000 Advanced Server. In addition, some 60 to 90 days after the current launch projection in mid-1999, Microsoft plans to roll out a new offering for its high-end customers called Windows 2000 Datacenter Server.

This new high-end version will support 16-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) in its shrink-wrapped form, and the OEM version will support up to 32-way SMP. Other features, however, will be similar to those in Advanced Server – including support for up to 64 GB of main memory and integration of IP load balancing technology Microsoft acquired in its purchase of Valence Research earlier this year.

Analysts Rob Enderle of the Giga Information Group (Santa Clara, Calif.) and Dan Kusnetzky of International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass.) agree that the only major difference between the new Datacenter Server and the Advanced Server appears to be in the configurations they support, with Advanced Server being limited to four-way SMP. Both analysts suggest pricing considerations were a motivation for Microsoft to separate the two lines.

"You can create the argument that it’s a different product," Enderle says. "In theory, as these things scale up, you can have one operating system that ran on a very large NT server, and if you used the same pricing model as you do for NT server, you’re looking at a revenue crater. There’s also a certain amount of support costs [for Microsoft in large-server environments]." Kusnetzky, however, finds the distinction puzzling. "It seems kind of strange to call that a different name instead of an add-on pack," he says.

Enderle was a consultant on the name change and says the NT name was becoming a problem for Microsoft.

"The Windows brand is the legacy brand. This is the brand they’ve fed and nurtured. The problem with NT was people were referring to the product as NT, not Windows," Enderle says. "They wanted to refocus back on the Windows brand."

Recommending a name wasn’t easy, Enderle says. Microsoft’s strategy to unify all of its operating systems from the PC-targeted Windows 98 on up to the multiprocessor server environment at the top of the Windows NT line made for some ugly naming possibilities. Ultimately, Microsoft decided on the convention of the Windows name followed by the year of the upgrade and specifics about the product. While the first release is expected in mid-1999, Microsoft literature notes deployment will continue through 2000, justifying the choice of Windows 2000 for the first iteration. Enderle estimates Microsoft may have a unified kernel ready for release across all levels of its operating system by about 2002.

But Kusnetzky still sees serious confusion down the road, both for Microsoft and for its partners. Microsoft may end up fighting a public perception that Windows 2000 is an upgrade to Windows 98, he says. Chase emphasized that Microsoft is not yet announcing a successor to Windows 98. However, he did say that NT technology will eventually become the "underpinning of even the consumer version of Windows."

Partners who have built their products on Windows NT will share the problem, Kusnetzky adds. "[Partners] will probably have to go through an education cycle with their customers that Windows 2000 is just the next generation of Windows NT. When they could have been making their products better, they’re spending time on this marketing exercise," Kusnetzky says.

One way Redmond plans to address the potential for confusion is by adding the tag line "Built on Windows NT technology" to Windows 2000 products.

From Microsoft’s perspective, though, such confusion may be desirable, Kusnetzky suggests. "NT has a lot of discussion going on now about the lateness of version 5.0, how big version 5.0 has gotten, how monolithic," Kusnetzky says. "I could see how Microsoft feels like they may be able to use this name to get away from some of the rumors about rumors about scalability, reliability and maintainability problems, and step forward with a new, clean sheet of paper."