Whistling into Confusion

Now that an illegal copy of Whistler has wended its way through America’s college campuses, Microsoft Corp. must feel like it can talk about the operating system upgrade.

Whistler is the code name for Microsoft’s next version of Windows 2000 that Redmond plans to ship in 2001. Microsoft finally opened up about Whistler to the 3,000 hardware partners attending the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in New Orleans last month.

There are numerous developments within Whistler. It will unify the consumer and business operating system code bases under the Windows NT kernel; it will come in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors; and it is supposed to support scalability and manageability improvements.

But the single most noticeable contribution that Whistler will bring to the Microsoft family of operating systems is confusion. Who can keep track of all this stuff? Microsoft is becoming like the old woman who lived in a shoe. You know, the one who had so many children she didn’t know what to do?

The Windows 2000 name change was confusing enough. By dropping NT from its business operating system names and changing Workstation to Professional, Microsoft has caused me no end of explaining to friends, family, and even the occasional IT administrator. No, this isn’t the upgrade to Windows 98 for your home PC.

On the high end, Windows NT Server, Enterprise Edition, reverted to the pre-4.0 name of Advanced Server. And for something completely different, Microsoft introduced a new higher high-end operating system, Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. Since it hasn’t shipped, I suspect there’s a significant contingent in the IT world that still doesn’t know what Datacenter Server is. Now mix in the Windows NT 4.0 Embedded version that came out in August 1999.

Before Microsoft unifies everybody under Whistler, the company will release Millennium, the last version of its consumer operating system based on the Windows 9x kernel.

Think you’ve got a handle on it now? Wait. Throw 64-bit systems into the mix. That’s two new Microsoft operating systems this year: 64-bit Windows 2000 Server and 64-bit Windows 2000 Professional.

Fast forward about a year. There will be at least three client versions of Whistler -- the Windows 2000 Professional follow-on, the consumer version of Whistler, and the 64-bit version. Windows Whistler Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server will come in two versions each -- a 32-bit and a 64-bit. Finally, there will be Whistler Embedded. Imagine if Neptune was still around.

By my count, Microsoft has gone from six discrete operating systems in 1998, to seven in 1999, to nine by the end of 2000, to an expected 11 in 2001. Now that represents an enviable compound annual growth rate. Don’t get me started on different language versions.

Microsoft will need that 64-bit version of SQL Server 2000 the company demonstrated at WinHEC just to keep track of all its operating systems. Maybe it’s time for Microsoft to impose its own breakup.

[Infobox]

Current Microsoft Operating Systems

1998 1999 2000 (planned) 2001 (planned)
NT Workstation NT Workstation W2K Pro. Whistler Pro.
NT Server NT Server W2K Server Whistler Server
NT Server, Ent. Ed. NT Server, Ent. Ed. W2K Adv. Srv. Whistler Adv. Srv.
NT Server, Term. Srv. NT Server, Term. Srv. W2K Datacenter Whistler Datacenter
Windows 95/98 NT Embedded NT Embedded Whistler Embedded
Windows CE Windows 95/98 Windows ME Whistler Consumer
  Windows CE 64-bit Pro. 64-bit Whistler Pro.
    64-bit Server 64-bit Whistler Server
    Windows CE 64-bit Whistler Adv. Srv.
      64-bit Whistler Datacenter
      Windows CE
--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
6 7 9 11