Windows 2000: Hurry Up and Wait

As Windows 2000 Beta 3 ships out to an estimated half million users, Microsoft Corp. is trying to pull off the nearly impossible: treating Beta 3 like finished code.

As Windows 2000 Beta 3 ships out to an estimated half million users, Microsoft Corp. is trying to pull off the nearly impossible: treating Beta 3 like finished code. Accordingly, the third party market, including a who's who of computing hardware and software, is lining up to proclaim support for Beta 3. On the other hand, users appear to be in far shorter supply.

IBM Corp. already opened a Windows 2000 briefing center in Kirkland, Wash. In addition to the obvious -- announcing that all its Windows-related products will be Windows 2000 compatible when the operating system ships -- Big Blue announced support for Beta 3 in the name of hardware, software and services.

Likewise, Dell Computer Corp. is selling and supporting a full line of systems, from notebook to server, with Beta 3 preloaded. It also seems that every Windows NT ISV on the block has announced support for the OS in one form or another. Dozens of other third-party vendors have announced their support for the Beta 3 release of Windows 2000.

Some testers say the code has progressed well coming into the third beta. Jeff Pulver, president of Intercomp Design Inc., a consulting firm and beta testing site for Windows 2000, Office 2000 and Windows 98 Second Edition, says this operating system appears to be in better shape than the first release versions of previous Microsoft operating systems he has beta tested. "Judging from the betas, Windows 2000, believe it or not, looks pretty strong," he says.

Laura DiDio, Windows NT analyst with Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com) says the beta may appear stable, but cautions that it needs to be up and running in production-like environments before Microsoft knows for certain if the code still has minefields that need to be cleared.

Despite the testimonials of a strong beta and widespread vendor backing, on the day Windows 2000 ships a key ingredient may still be missing from Microsoft’s recipe: customers. Several IT departments contacted by ENT confirm that their plans entail the installation of Beta 3 in test environments when it becomes available, but they will not deploy the final version into production environments before Jan. 1, 2000.

"We won’t migrate prior to January 2000 since our goal is to be as stable as possible in preparation for Y2K," says an IT employee at a consulting, integration and outsourcing provider that services commercial and government operations. "Depending on success of testing, it may determine how fast we migrate after that."

Likewise, the IT manager at a wholesale food distributor says the company will not even look at Windows 2000 until after January 1. "We do not need the additional headache of a new operating system, should any Y2K surprises occur," he maintains.

When it comes to early deployment of Windows 2000, users and analysts have not forgotten that Microsoft has the weight of history against them. A number of major industry analyst firms, including GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com) and Giga Information Group, recommend that customers wait to deploy the product at least until the first service pack ships or, depending on how thorough that service pack is, until the second service pack is available.

"While Microsoft is one of the best software companies in the world, we cannot trust their initial releases, as demonstrated with Office 97 and some of the service packs for Windows NT," says Dave Pinch, a systems analyst and programmer at Hennepin Faculty Associates (www.hcmc.org), a Minneapolis public teaching hospital. Pinch confirmed that Hennepin will test Beta 3, but the organization will wait until the final version is proved to be stable before implementing it.

Microsoft declined to identify any customers that would publicly state plans to deploy the final version before the end of this year. Microsoft, however, will be eating its own proverbial dog food with Beta 3.

"Microsoft is deploying the beta into production environments throughout its worldwide operation. It’s not just a test-bed for them," says Elvin Ambler, vice president, marketing, at International Network Services Inc. (INS, www.ins.com). INS provides network consulting and software solutions, and was hired by Microsoft to help with some aspects of the deployment, such as Inter-networking, security and Active Directory deployment. Ambler did not know how quickly Microsoft plans to deploy the beta.

A Microsoft spokeswoman would only confirm that the company has upgraded some of its internal IT infrastructure to Windows 2000 and that employees are now being authenticated by Windows 2000 and Active Directory as they log into the network. Also, she said a number of Microsoft employees are using Beta 3 as their primary operating system.

Neither Ambler nor Microsoft would comment on Microsoft’s plans for deploying the final version on a corporatewide basis.