Weighing in on W2K

So Windows 2000 is now available, and new workstations are shipping with the operating system preinstalled. Are you going to welcome these systems into the corporate network, or will you fight their arrival? Consider the pros and cons of using Windows 2000 Professional without an upgrade to Windows 2000 Server.

Pro: Windows 2000 is more stable and reliable than Windows 9x or NT Workstation. Anyone who has lost hours of work or has broken a machine at a crucial time knows this is a tangible and worthwhile benefit. If one message got through to Microsoft Corp., it was that customers want systems they don’t have to be rebooted. Good thing, too, since Linux desktops increasingly will be compared with Microsoft desktops. Crashes, hangs, and blue Screens of Death are an embarrassment to Microsoft, causing a loss of credibility within corporate America.

Con: Installing Windows 2000 will be practical only on relatively current machines. Microsoft has preached about how Windows 2000 will solve the manageability problems found in previous Windows desktop products, but nobody mentioned that you’re not going to run Windows 2000 on many of your existing desktop boxes. Microsoft recommends a 133 MHz CPU, 64 MB of memory and a 2 GB disk. In Microsoft tradition, double those requirements if you will be running the requisite anti-virus software, office suite, and plan to do some professional work. Even if your systems have the horsepower to run Windows 2000, you’ll still need to make sure they are using BIOS code that is Windows 2000 compatible.

Pro: Windows 2000 Professional is an easy upgrade from Windows 9x or Windows NT. Even better, if you have appropriate licensing and disk space to support a dual-boot configuration, you can have the best of both worlds for an interim or indefinite period of time.

Con: Aside from the inherent advantage of a more stable operating system, applications won’t directly benefit from Windows 2000 Professional, Active Directory, or most of the other new aspects of Windows 2000. They need to be updated to be W2K aware. Worse, there is the potential to run into some application installation problems, which could mean buying an upgrade or doing without. Support for hardware devices also may be a problem. I learned this lesson the hard way. I bought a parallel port expansion card, only to find out it doesn’t work with Windows 2000. The customer service rep at the company was most informative: After a phone call and two e-mails he told me he had no idea what his company’s plans were for supporting Windows 2000.

Pro: Better laptop security. The No. 1 thing that makes me nervous when I travel with my laptop is the confidentiality of the data on my disk. With Windows 2000’s encrypted folders, protecting data is a no-brainer. While such capabilities are available through third-party solutions on NT, Windows 9x, and other operating systems, this is built into Windows 2000 and is easy to use – which means it might actually get used.

Con: The don’t stop halfway scenario. Putting Windows 2000 on the desktop opens the door for use elsewhere in your organization. Once you begin, you may find yourself rolling out Windows 2000 Server -- or worse, rolling out Windows 2000 Server without a master plan. Don’t kid yourself, Microsoft will gladly surround NT 4 -- or any other servers out there -- then force that server to become assimilated so there can be an Active Directory.

Pro: Windows 2000 Professional gets along with NT Servers, NetWare servers, and Novell management tools, without any Active Directory configuration.

Con: Active Directory is a proprietary lock-in, no matter how Microsoft spins it.

Pro: You can brag to your friends that you’re using Windows 2000.

Con: You’ll have to support Windows 2000. Time will tell if that’s something you will or won’t want to brag about!

If your company is not a Windows shop, or if it doesn’t want to become a Windows 2000 shop, you don’t have many options. Stick with Windows 9x and its inherent problems, or use the Macintosh operating system, which few companies are choosing for general purpose use. Another option is to just say no and consider what the Linux vendor community is making available.

It’s hard to deny Microsoft’s dominance in the client market. With an 87.7 percent share of all new client operating environment license shipments during 1999, Microsoft owns the market. Windows 2000 Professional finally gives Microsoft a client product that is worthy of such a dominant position. --Al Gillen is research manager for server infrastructure software at International Data Corp. (www.idc.com) and former editor-in-chief of ENT. Contact him at agillen@idc.com.