As the Microsoft marketing machine shifted into top gear last week to herald the release of Windows 2000, the boys in Redmond were forced to slam on the brakes at the last minute when the European Commission (EC) threatened to force them off the road.
In a move that echoes the US Department of Justice (DoJ) antitrust trial, the EC has launched an investigation into whether the operating system will allow its creators to get a stranglehold on the ebusiness market in Europe.
Swerving to avoid one obstacle, Microsoft drove straight into another as Michael Dell, chief executive of Dell Computer, gave the release a drubbing. In a conference call in which the company released its fourth quarter earnings report, he said he had not seen a rush of corporate customers upgrading their hardware systems to deal with Windows 2000: "We don't see a massive acceleration due to Windows 2000."
Analyst GartnerGroup was next to put the boot in, with a report that said Windows 2000 will cause untold incompatibility problems for half of all users who roll it out.
The organisation has advised its clients to wait several months before purchasing the desktop version of Windows 2000, and to wait until at least June before buying the server edition.
Gartner expects only 20 per cent of all desktop Windows users to upgrade to Windows 2000 this year, and forecasts that no more than five per cent of server customers are likely to do so.
The views of IT managers
Given the events of the last fortnight, Network News talked to IT managers to find out whether recent speculation about the prospects for the operating system have dented enthusiasm for NT4's successor.
Network News: Do you think the investigations by the EC and the US DoJ into Windows 2000, and the possibility of alterations to the OS as a result, will discourage users from rolling it out?
Steve Hennerley, network manager, Priory High School: "I don't think people really take all that much notice of the DoJ trials. If the operating system offers what people want, the stability and security that it promises, then they will roll it out. The big thing that will stop people is if a change to the operating system means more service packs and more security fixes."
Mike Varley, network manager, North Area College Stockport: "I'm sure all these issues will be addressed by any organisation considering Windows 2000, but by far the biggest issues from my point of view are: Is it stable? Is it cost effective? And what does it give us that we don't already have?"
NN: What is your general impression of Microsoft as a company?
John Skelton, IT manager of a software house: "Microsoft is dreadfully out of touch with its users and developers and too often tries to bullshit about what its software does or will do and what other people's can or can't do. Why it thinks we'd fall for that is beyond me."
Steve Hennerley: "For all its faults, I think it's a pretty reasonable company. I don't think any other big company in its position would do any better or command any greater respect from other companies."
NN: Are you evaluating Windows 2000 at the moment and, if so, when are you planning to roll it out?
Mark Steele, senior network engineer at fund manager, Thomas Miller: "We will not implement Windows 2000 until it has proven itself at larger sites. I would hate to repeat the pain that Netware 4.01 caused."
David Damerell, computer officer, Cambridge University: "We have advised people not to touch it until at least the first service pack."
John Skelton: "We have no plans to implement it at the moment. We'll wait at least six months, carefully monitoring others' experiences. I'm sick of buggy Microsoft software, and don't have the time to waste suffering it."
Emma Appleton, IT manager, Town Centre Securities: "I am evaluating Windows 2000, and it's very good so far - a user friendly version of Windows NT, as far as the users are concerned. It's also quite simple to configure and so far has been stable. I'll roll out Windows 2000 about one to two months after it has been released, to ensure any major glitches have been resolved."
NN: If you are planning to roll out Windows 2000, what features attracted you to it and how do you think it compares to Linux and Netware 5.1?
Steve Hennerley: "I'm not a fan of Netware 5.1 - I think it's harder to manage than the others, though I'm sure thousands of Netware 5.1 system operators will disagree. I'm not aware of any features that are useful enough to my organisation for it to upgrade away from NT4."
Mark Steele: "The only reason we will roll out Windows 2000 is that NT4 will no longer be available. We won't roll it out because it's such a good product, but because we'll have no choice. Netware is currently best of breed and Windows 2000 will have to be really special to persuade us to migrate to it for file and print services. Migration will not be easy and considerable expense will be incurred."
Mike Varley: "It's stability and reliability that I want from a server operating system. I would rather have that than bells and whistles any day. Netware has proved to be very solid and Unix (AIX in our case) hasn't crashed in four years."
NN: What features, if any, needed to be improved in Windows NT, and from what you have seen of Windows 2000, has Microsoft solved them?
David Damerell: "Stability, scalability, ability to run more than one major service on a machine without it falling over three times a day, and an atrocious user interface. Traditional command line Unix has a user interface that's challenging at first but which rewards experience. Windows is approachable but doesn't become noticeably quicker with practice."
John Skelton: "NT needs rebooting far too often, even for trivial configuration changes. Also, it has too many annoying differences from 95/98, as well as too many bugs. There's yet to be a really good patch. Windows 2000 has far too much new code, leading to more incompatibilities and probably more new bugs. Microsoft doesn't seem to care about stability - it says it does, but all the evidence says otherwise."
NN: Are you using Netware directory services in your current environment and, if so, are you worried about the continuing lack of integration with Active Directory? Would this be reason enough for you not to roll out Windows 2000?
Mark Steele: "We use Novell's NDS, but we don't integrate it with NT. I personally would not like to see NDS interfaced with Active Directory. Active Directory has a long way to go before it becomes a proven technology, and Novell knows all about the pain that a directory can cause if it's not a stable product at launch. I suspect the long delays in releasing the product are because they want to get it right first time."
Mike Varley: "Yes, we are using NDS and it works very well indeed. I have no plans for Active Directory for the time being. Integration is a concern but NDS is not going to disappear overnight. I won't get really worried for a couple of years, by which time things may have changed dramatically."
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