New Windows Not Ready for Business

While Microsoft Corp.'s (Redmond, Wash.) Windows 95 operating system introduced a variety of enhancements to the business desktop - including support for 32-bit applications and for integrated TCP/IP and networking features – IT managers shouldn't expect similar such miracles from the company's just-released Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) operating system.

In fact, IT managers shouldn't even expect Windows Me to provide many of the same features and support that have been part-and-parcel of the Windows computing experience since Windows 95 was first released. Gone, for example, is the DOS real-mode support that even today enables many of the legacy DOS applications that yet populate the business desktop.

In a related move, Microsoft's Windows Me development team initially stripped some corporate networking capabilities – such as integrated support for network clients such as Novell NetWare and (shudder) Banyan Vines – out of Windows Me. At the behest of corporate users, the software giant later re-instated such networking functions, however.

The fact of the matter, says Rob Enderle, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group (Santa Clara, Calif.), is that Windows Me is a consumer operating system release, through-and-through. In Enderle's account, organizations that meet its more stringent hardware and application requirements should deploy Windows 2000 Professional, and not Windows Me.

In the past, Microsoft was content to encourage customers to deploy either Windows 9x or Windows NT 4.0 in business computing environments—but no more. During the Windows Me launch festivities, Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer made it official: Windows Me belongs in the home.

“Windows Me was designed specifically with the home user in mind, and customers will be very pleased with the digital media, home-networking, PC health and online experience enhancements,” Ballmer maintained.

Two of Windows Me's most significant new features – version 7.0 of the Windows Media Player and the new Windows Movie Maker – are consumer applications to the bone. And even Windows Me's slew of purported “reliability” enhancements – including a new “System File Protection” feature; the aforementioned removal of DOS real-mode support for applications and for devices; and a variety of system updates – are of dubious value.

Indeed, Windows Me's newfound freedom from the restrictions of real-mode DOS—which creates stability problems because it allows applications to directly interact with system hardware independent of the operating system itself - could cripple many legacy 16-bit DOS applications.

IT managers who were considering Windows Me as a replacement for existing Windows 95 or Windows 98 desktops probably shouldn't change anything at all. If security, reliability and system stability are concerns – and if legacy DOS application support isn't a key issue – Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system emerges as the best overall choice.

In the long-term, Windows Me actually spells the last of the Windows 9x family of operating systems.

“Windows Me is the last full release of an OS product from Microsoft that's based on the Windows 9x code base,” says Carl Stork, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Hardware Strategy Group. “Next year the consumer segment is going to start the move in full momentum to using technology based on the Windows NT code base.”

Microsoft's next major operating system release – code-named “Whistler” – will subsume both the Windows 9x/Me and Windows NT/2000 code-bases under one common hood. At the same time, Whistler will likely be available in at least two different client operating system packages, Microsoft's Stork explains: One optimized for business users, the other optimized for customers and for entry-level users.

Microsoft is already bringing some of the enhancements from Windows 2000 into Windows Me, including hibernation mode and the Windows 2000 TCP/IP stack.