Does Microsoft Certification Matter?

Not everybody cares about Microsoft certification when it comes to third-party applications.

Robert Bower, the application development manager at Squire, Sanders and Dempsey L.L.P. (www.ssd.com), an international law firm with more than 140 NT servers, says his company is running legal-specific applications, some certified for Windows NT, others not.

When choosing between a certified software program and an uncertified application, Bower says he generally chooses the certified application. But he doesn’t avoid uncertified applications.

"The only thing that certification means to me is that the vendor has to support it, as opposed to me fixing it and supporting it. We generally test rather thoroughly though," he says.

ENT interviews with other IT professionals show that Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) has a lot of proving to do before end users believe Microsoft’s new, stricter application certification process for Windows 2000 means something.

In the past, Microsoft offered the Designed for Windows NT logo and slapped it on as many applications as possible as a means to highlight the wide range of applications that could be run on Windows NT. The company frequently claimed that 4,000 applications were available for Windows NT Server and tens of thousands more were available for Windows NT Workstation.

But for Windows 2000, Microsoft is wielding a new logo certification process as a way to underscore its emphasis on improving reliability and reducing total cost of ownership (TCO).

Microsoft has acknowledged that application conflicts caused many of the notorious Blue Screens of Death in Windows NT 4.0. The new Windows 2000 Certified logo is supposed to guarantee that an ISV has taken necessary steps to avoid conflicts with the operating system. The company also wants its revamped certification process to bestow logos only on applications that take advantage of the operating system’s improved network installation features and don’t get in the way of administrative control over users’ desktops.

Some IT analyst houses believe there are benefits to the new Microsoft logo program. A recent report by GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com) suggests that companies can reduce TCO by 27 percent per user with certified applications.

Analyst Dwight Davis of Summit Strategies Inc. (www.summitstrat.com) says that while Microsoft has been behind schedule in rolling out its certification process, the program is proving to be rigorous. "That just means that the numbers of applications that get certified is going to dribble out," Davis says.

Five Windows 2000 Professional applications have been certified by VeriTest Inc. (www.veritest.com), the company Microsoft contracts with for the actual testing.

"We expect to have over 100 [applications certified] within six months of launch," said Deborah Willingham, vice president of marketing for the business and enterprise division at Microsoft, at a Dec. 15 news conference to announce that Windows 2000 had been released to manufacturing.

Microsoft finalized the Server Application Specification for Windows 2000 only a week before RTM, and no applications have been certified yet for Windows 2000 Server.

Confusing the matter of the new certification process, Microsoft is waging a parallel campaign in the old style -- emphasizing the raw numbers of applications being tweaked for Windows 2000. A separate term, Windows 2000 Ready, denotes an uncertified application that has undergone internal Windows 2000 testing by the third-party vendor who wrote the application.

Microsoft claims 1,000 applications will be ready to use with Windows 2000 when it ships Feb. 17. At RTM, Microsoft said 500 key desktop applications and 86 key server applications were Windows 2000 Ready.

Microsoft is coy about what specific applications are key. "Microsoft is not saying what those applications are for obvious political reasons," Summit Strategies’ Davis says.

Users have mixed feelings about the importance of certification. Most say they conduct their own testing.

"It’s very much a part of our buying decision. If one app is certified and another is not, we may not go with an app just because it’s certified. But for us to install a program that has not been certified, there has to be a really good reason," says an IT manager who requested anonymity.

One IT professional who questions the value of certification is Hamid Mirza, CTO and senior vice president of research and development at ADP Dealer Services Group Inc. (www.adp.com/home/dealer.html), a provider of integrated computing solutions to auto and truck manufacturers. His company is a participant in the Microsoft and IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) joint early deployment program. He says lack of certification will not stop his company or his customers from installing applications to run on Windows 2000.

"I don’t think certification is an immediate need. The industry is certainly cognizant of it, but I don’t think [certification] would be an earth shattering issue for them," he says.

An IT employee with the federal government says that he would consider running applications that are not certified for Windows 2000 rather than wait for important applications to achieve certification.

"I use several network administration tools that are invaluable to me, and I just can't wait for certification. I will try them out on a test box. If it works, I'll use it," he says.