Good Enough to Wait For

Almost everyone has an opinion on how quickly Windows 2000 will make inroads into different parts of corporate America. The analyst firm GartnerGroup has its well-researched beliefs, and during a three-day conference held earlier this month in Southern California, it made its point rather clear.

GartnerGroup holds a decidedly conservative view on the adoption of Windows 2000. The firm’s analysts uniformly advise users to wait for the release after Windows 2000 before implementing it. In addition, GartnerGroup believes corporate users had better prepare themselves for changes in how they deal with Microsoft. Changes most large users probably won't like.

There's nothing wrong with being skeptical, particularly when it has to do with Microsoft and the quality, delivery and reliability of its products. Microsoft has not proven itself to be a large company's most reliable supplier of on-time, stable reliable products, especially with respect to an upgrade the magnitude of the Windows 2000 project.

Given its focus on the ultra-high end of the market, the advice offered by GartnerGroup's analysts makes sense.

A few key points that came out of the event are worth summarizing.

  • Think of Microsoft as a vendor that is shooting to make its products "good enough" to satisfy the sweet spot in the market -- the 80 percent majority. If you are part of the remaining 20 percent that wants, expects or needs the best, Microsoft is not, and probably will never be, your key vendor. Given Microsoft's high-volume, low-price business model, there's little financial incentive to invest the significant effort required to improve a product enough to capture that last 20 percent of the market.

GartnerGroup observes that the only thing Microsoft could gain is a few of the industry's most demanding users, but the effort to satisfy these users won't translate into a major revenue stream for Microsoft. The cost justification just isn't there for Microsoft. Given that assumption, it's easier to understand why Microsoft's interest remains in addressing the largest and most lucrative market sectors.

  • Expect Microsoft to continue to drive its licensing model ahead with increasingly less favorable terms. GartnerGroup expects this change to happen in a subtle way. List prices will appear to remain relatively constant, or even decrease, but the company will seal all of the licensing loopholes that may have existed in the past. At the extreme far end of this trend is what GartnerGroup projects will be the end of perpetual licensing, replaced by an "annual" licensing scheme. Not a pleasant thought.

"Not possible," you say? Consider what happened to such licensing benefits as the concurrent licensing of Office and the ability to run a copy of your corporate licensed-version of Office on your home system.

  • GartnerGroup analysts repeatedly encouraged users to get Windows 2000 Beta 3, play with it, integrate it into your test networks and start planning for domain consolidation. They cautioned, however, not to make plans for actual deployment until at least 2001, when GartnerGroup projects the follow-on to Windows 2000 to make its debut.

In an ideal world, this kind of conservative, phased approach makes good business sense. But we don't live in an ideal world where competitive pressures and application software dependencies will wait for GartnerGroup's schedule. Following GartnerGroup guidelines will prove hard, if not impossible, for most large organizations.

A more likely scenario is that users will delay deployment of Windows 2000 aboard mission critical application servers as long as is practical. But more mundane print and file servers, and possibly Exchange or Notes servers, will be converted as business needs call, or when new machines arrive with Windows 2000 preinstalled. On the desktop, Windows 2000 is likely to appear even sooner.

Most Windows NT shops can expect to face managing a heterogeneous Windows environment -- one that includes Windows 9x, Windows NT and Windows 2000 -- for a long time to come. The sooner you put the tools in place to manage such a heterogeneous environment, the less you'll need to worry about when a given machine migrates. You will be in a better position to orchestrate a controlled, predictable migration.

As for the licensing issues, assuming GartnerGroup is right on this prediction, the time to tell Microsoft how you feel about its terms is today. Will Microsoft make the mistake of giving its customer base a financial incentive to consider alternatives like Linux on the client? Time will tell.