Ballmer Tones Down Expectations for Upcoming Windows OS Release

Microsoft Corp. has built a reputation as a marketing machine. And one that sometimes promises far more than it delivers. But in a keynote address at Networld+Interop in Atlanta, the company’s president, Steve Ballmer, took a less aggressive -- and more realistic -- approach to discussing current problems, as well as the future of Windows NT.

"Clearly, we still have a lot of issues to resolve, especially for customers who have high expectations from working with mainframes and well-honed Unix systems," he said at the October event. Ballmer’s comments were made prior to the announcement that the names of Microsoft’s high-end family of operating systems will be changed from "Windows NT" to "Windows 2000" with the release of what would have been NT version 5.0. "I admit we have a long way to go. But this is one of our prime objectives as we move forward in the next few years, and we are committing both our talents and the bulk of our research and development investments, which next year will total some $3 billion."

He added that the target of that research and development will be in simplicity, manageability, reliability and interoperability of the operating system. More specifically, Ballmer divided the obstacles facing Microsoft’s operating system into three categories: configuration, reliability and availability and security.

The problems with configuration reside in the cost of upgrading and the challenge of distributing applications. "When I hear [deploying applications] can take a year and half, I know we have a problem," he said.

Ballmer also pointed to service level agreements as an area where Microsoft needs to improve. Windows NT, unlike mainframes, lacks the tools necessary to get to the root of problems. "To best serve enterprise customers we are now addressing new issues, such as helping administrators detect problems in advance and providing for advanced clustering and load balancing," he said.

As more and more enterprise customers turn to Windows 2000 for mission critical business applications, the need for security will grow. "Security has obviously become a big issue, placing new demands on the PC market that exceed those that mainframes have faced in the past. These concerns are growing, particularly as the Internet is being used for business-to-business transactions and fund transfers," he said.

Ballmer also cried out to the industry as a whole to work toward "bringing the PC to the enterprise level." He made it clear that for Windows NT to evolve into a platform that can challenge the likes of Unix boxes and mainframes, the industry will need to rally around the operating system. "I don’t want to pretend that Windows [2000] is the end of the road. Third party companies can help with batch tools, diagnostic capabilities, and more. … And, of course, we still have to ship [Windows 2000]."