Remember the last time the Tories were in government, or when the Germans knocked out England in a football tournament? Then there's a small chance you will remember the first murmurs of a successor to Windows NT 4 from Microsoft headquarters.
What has happened since has been raked so extensively that there is no need for another exhumation. With 30 million lines of code, almost double that of NT 4, Windows 2000 is essentially a new operating system (OS).
An unknown quantity
When Microsoft announced that the Professional, Server and Advanced Server editions of Windows 2000 would be available from 17 February, resellers' reactions were strangely muted. Now that the software is finally about to move, perhaps it's time to stop pontificating and get on with selling it. The biggest challenge for Microsoft's channel partners has been how to prepare for what is, to all extents and purposes, an unknown quantity.
Microsoft believes that its channel is better prepared for the release of Windows 2000 than it has been for anything that has preceded it. The software giant has supposedly learned from past mistakes. Don't expect the pomp that surrounded the launch of Windows 95. The back-slapping on that occasion came back to haunt Microsoft when glitches in the system became apparent.
Brian DaBinnet, Windows 2000 strategy manager at ESoft Global, a Microsoft rapid deployment programme partner, sums up reseller's attitude to the timing of the release.
"I would rather Microsoft got the product right and have it late than shipped early and full of errors. It's very easy to knock Microsoft, but if you've been working with it at the coal face, you feel better about the effort being made. I think Microsoft is confident about this one, and it will be downplayed a lot more than Windows 95 and 98," he said.
The development phase of Windows 2000 has also been characterised by predictions of when demand will take off for the OS. This is an issue that all resellers must plan and prepare for. The timing is good on many levels. Corporates have been relieved of their year 2000 headaches and resources are being deployed for business in the Internet era. Also, companies with less-sophisticated computing infrastructures, particularly public sector organisations, are at last hauling themselves into the digital age.
A straw poll by Computer Reseller News US asked resellers their opinions on when their large corporates would make the transition to Windows 2000. The results were evenly balanced. About a third said their clients would make the transition between six months and a year after general availability, and 20 per cent said it would be more than a year before mass migration would start.
Another 20 per cent predicted that it would be between three and six months after release. Fourteen per cent said their clients would never make the transition.
"There is definitely an acceptance barrier concerning Windows 2000 that has polarised the market into two camps: those eager to try it and those that would not touch it with a barge pole," says DaBinnet. "At the moment, you cannot really argue with those in the latter group who use Novell Directory Services."
Wait and see
The development community has also adopted a cautious approach to Windows 2000. Researcher Evans Marketing Services (EMS) says two-thirds of development managers in the US will not write applications for Windows 2000 until next year and 30 per cent say they will never write applications for the OS.
"Corporate America is taking a wait-and-see attitude towards Windows 2000," said Janet Garvin, EMS's vice president of research. "But the fact that more than half have no plans to adopt Windows 2000 until later and that a large percentage of NT users plan never to migrate, starts to look like a sea-change."
In addition, analyst GartnerGroup has predicted that mainstream businesses should wait for the first major proven service pack before deploying large-scale implementations, which will become available between six and nine months after general availability.
"There are alternatives to Windows 2000. NT 4 will be publicly available for new purchases until the end of 2001," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner.
"Businesses must determine the migration costs and the benefits of Windows 2000 before the new OS is brought into their environments," he added.
Ironically, IBM, will implement one of the largest deliveries of Windows 2000, migrating about 300,000 users to the platform this year.
Adam Jollans, Europe, the Middle East and Africa marketing manager for IBM software on NT, said most implementations of the OS in the short term will be simple upgrades from NT 4, with IT managers being most interested in gaining improved reliability from the software.
Scaling the heights
Demand generated by other features of Windows 2000, such as Active Directory and the high-end edition, Datacenter, which will be released later in the year, will take longer as companies look for benefits such as lower total cost of ownership, interoperability and scalability.
"Windows 2000 is more stable than you would expect from a new OS, but what we don't have yet is people experienced in getting the most out of features such as Active Directory," says Jollans.
IBM claims the services opportunity around the OS means that, theoretically, the vendor could make more money from Windows 2000 than Microsoft through its IBM Global Services arm. True or not, Jollans says the turnover potential is good for resellers. Although IBM Global Services will be eager to claim its share of the spoils, Jollans claims there will be enough to go around for resellers.
"The best thing resellers can do is to get out there and get practical experience. The first person to install a full roll-out will be very popular," says Jollans.
But this poses a chicken-and-egg problem for resellers. Convincing a client to implement a full migration will be difficult and there is a risk attached, but the expertise gained could be crucial in convincing prospective clients. This is easier said than done, however, with many resellers servicing customers in the highly-sceptical small and medium-sized businesses sector - a market Microsoft desperately wants to crack with Windows 2000.
Ian Brooks, managing director of Microsoft reseller IB Business Development, says not one of his smaller customers has approached him about migrating to Windows 2000. "You don't get the sort of clamouring from smaller firms for the latest products that you do in large corporates. Although Microsoft would never admit it, smaller firms are in some ways treated like second-class citizens," he claims.
Brooks says smaller businesses should have a specific version of Windows 2000 that is tailored for them - similar to Microsoft's Small Business server.
"Smaller businesses are very cynical. We'll install Windows 2000 for our new clients, but the existing customers will take an if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it approach," he adds.
Microsoft dismisses any notion that there is either a lack of willingness to embrace the OS or that there is a generally negative perception of it. Mark Tennant, Microsoft's Windows 2000 product marketing manager, claims more than 60 per cent of NT 4 users will have migrated to Windows 2000 by mid-2001. "We are getting good product feedback about reliability and scalability," he said.
Tennant hit back at detractors, claiming that some reports only succeeded in causing confusion. One such report drew attention to the fact that by the end of 1999, there were just six applications that were certified to run on Windows 2000, and that the vendor's own Office application suite was not expected to be certified until February at the earliest.
"These applications are rigorously tested and they need to be tested on the final code before being certified," he said. "The final code has just come through and there are thousands of applications that are ready to go [through the process]."
The challenge facing Microsoft
Steering Microsoft's enormous channel into a position where partners are equipped with the sales and technical expertise to take Windows 2000 to market is a huge challenge. The software giant launched a £3.1 million skills initiative last September to train both its customers and partners. The aim is to have at least 1,000 technically trained partners by the time of the official launch on 25 February.
"There's been a phenomenal take-up of our training sessions, with focus on architecture design and functionality of Active Directory," said Clare Curtis, skills manager at Microsoft.
This is a crucial year for Microsoft. The company's investors are banking on the success of Windows 2000. To see how the industry takes to Windows 2000 and how rivals size up to Microsoft will be fascinating. Windows 2000 also represents a huge opportunity for those channel players that are prepared to get in early and it could prove to be the catalyst that transforms many of them into a successful services-based organisation.
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