An Upgrade IT Will Drive

In the past, Microsoft has benefited from end users clamoring for the latest release of an operating system or application suite. All the noise put pressure on IT departments to upgrade, even when business needs didn’t necessarily call for it. You’ve heard the complaints: "At home I just bought a new 400-MHz machine running Windows 98. How am I supposed to get my work done with this old P80 system?"

With the double whammy of Office 2000 and Windows 2000, is it time for another round of moaning and groaning? Not necessarily.

This editorial was written on a machine running both the beta 3 of Windows 2000 Professional and Office 2000. Has all this cutting-edge technology made it easier to get this part of my job done? Well, the short answer is no -- aside from giving me something to blab about on this page.

That’s not to say that there is no benefit to be gained from Office 2000 and Windows 2000. But it appears the most compelling benefits are going to come from having Windows 2000 on the server side, too.

Looking at the situation from a client perspective, there are benefits, albeit ones that are hard to justify from a business perspective. One is the rocket ship that I’m using to test Windows 2000: a 400-MHz IBM IntelliStation with 4 GB of disk and 128 MB of memory. Another benefit -- of negative sorts -- is that our corporate IT director has bluntly promised to offer me neither support nor sympathy if something goes wrong while I’m using this system to touch files on our network.

So far, the system has proved to be a good network citizen and pretty solid -- save two inexplicable crashes of Outlook 2000 client. In both cases, Windows 2000 forced Outlook to terminate gracefully, after which Outlook restarted without incident.

Now for the parts I don’t like. Let’s assume our IT director had a change of heart, and decides to roll out Windows 2000 on all of our desktops and servers. Then suppose she decided to take advantage of IntelliMirror along with Windows 2000’s lockdown capabilities.

I’d probably lose my all-powerful administrative privileges aboard this system. No more installing cool games and running them when I have my door closed. No more minimizing my Solitaire game to the decoy Windows 2000-generated icon – "budget.xls." Then, what if she took away my A drive, since everything I need to access is already on the network or comes in over e-mail. Not an attractive scenario, even for a lightweight user like me, but these are the things that can make the IT director in your life a happy camper.

I was discussing my experiences with Windows 2000 Beta 3 with ENT columnist Mark McFadden. I made the comment that I was hoping to find that Windows 2000 Professional was so compelling that people would be falling all over themselves to get to it. That’s simply not the case, and I honestly don’t see what the sex appeal will be to non-technical end users -- even with Office 2000 thrown in for good measure. The fact is the client and server upgrade to Windows 2000 will be most exciting to the folks who spend their days fixing the PCs that inept end users are forever bungling up.

McFadden’s comment: "The appeal of Windows 2000 will be to the system administrators, architects and network specialists [who feel] that the features in NT 4 were grafted on and never really got around to the issues of scaling, reliability and data center orientation. These things don’t mean much to the corporate users of Excel, but they mean plenty to the guy in the basement room with no windows, surrounded by racks of Dells and Compaqs."

McFadden is right on the money. This is the first upgrade of Windows technology that will likely be pushed by IT management for manageability reasons -- a good business reason for an upgrade -- rather than to quell the clatter of restless users who think newer is automatically better. I doubt anybody will be camping out all night just to say they were the first in their neighborhood to have Windows 2000. This is good for IT management, but can anybody tell me if this is good or bad for Microsoft?