A funny thing is about to happen in the Windows World: The gap that separates the bleeding edge users and the legacy users is about to grow wide and deep.
Some companies are going to rush to Windows 2000, then on to Exchange 2000, SQL Server 2000, and the rest of the BackOffice 2000 family members. Over the next year or two, many will follow. But a good chunk of the systems in use will stay on Windows NT 4.0 for the foreseeable future, possibly forever. And IT managers of these legacy systems will likely have a relatively bleak future to look forward to when it comes to upgrades and new product introductions from Microsoft.
Simply stated, the future of the Windows world is Windows 2000. If you’re not on Windows 2000, you will be relegated to last year’s technology forever more. At Microsoft’s TechEd conference last month, that message came across loud and clear. If ever there was a forward-looking TechEd conference, this was it. The majority of sessions were devoted to what’s likely to become available through the balance of this year.
There were few, if any, sessions that focused on NT 4 -- except for the purpose of migrating NT 4 BackOffice server products over to BackOffice 2000 equivalents. Even sessions focused on migrating the base operating system from Windows NT to Windows 2000 were few and far between. I guess that means everyone knows how to make the transition.
If you want the cool new features offered in the BackOffice 2000 suite, then you will need to upgrade to Windows 2000. All the new members of BackOffice 2000 family -- Exchange 2000 Server, SQL Server 2000, Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000 -- all require a Windows 2000 foundation. Some of the existing BackOffice products, such as Host Integration Server 2000 and SMS 2.0, will be able to bridge across both Windows NT and Windows 2000 environments for some time to come, but some of the interesting enhancements to these products frequently depend on Windows 2000.
Some of the BackOffice products you are already using are morphing into different products that offer considerably expanded functionality. The Proxy Server products disappeared, with its technology folded into the new Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000. Site Server is gone, as is Site Server Commerce Edition, replaced by Commerce Server 2000, which looks to be a slick product for -- you guessed it -- for Windows 2000 users.
Certainly, Microsoft would like nothing more than to quickly get its customers to upgrade all existing systems to Windows 2000 and to switch all new purchases over to Windows 2000. But this transition won’t be fast.
A liberal scenario for the movement of new license sales from Windows NT Workstation over to Windows 2000 Professional would be that 20 percent of the year’s total is Windows 2000 Professional. Server shipments will be slower to make the transition.
Installed base is even a bigger problem. IDC models show about 40 million existing installs of Windows NT 4.0 Workstation and Server. What Microsoft may or may not understand is that companies that have a huge investment in a given infrastructure is not anxious to perform a complete overhaul just because Microsoft has released a new, albeit arguably better, product.
For Microsoft and its partners, adopting the latest technology is imperative because using the most current products provides invaluable experience that helps leading edge customers with their own deployments. For the same reason, most folks who work in the IT business are always fooling around with the most current technology.
But when it comes to broad deployments, customers frequently have a three-, four- or five-year amortization schedule for their technology investments. That means that Windows 95 is probably still in use by many, and if a company deployed Windows 98, it might not be ready to consider another technology upgrade until 2003. They may end up holding off for Windows 2004 product.
Learning to support its legacy customers will be a tricky lesson for Microsoft, presenting challenges that have never before existed on such a large scale. Let’s hope that the long-term support for these customers amounts to far more than a series of increasingly lucrative upgrade offers. --Al Gillen is research manager for system software at IDC (www.idc.com) and former editor-in-chief of ENT. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.