Microsoft's senior vice president Jim Allchin, who is heading up the development of Windows 2000, has acknowledged that the just-released Beta 3, although feature-complete, needs plenty of work before it can be considered a finished product.
In an interview with the representatives from the Gartner Group that wrapped up the analysts' "NT in the Enterprise" conference, the Microsoft executive also expressed a little dismay at the notoriety of the Linux operating system, and said that although the company strives to integrate products, platform teams often try to avoid integration as much as possible.
Allchin would not comment on when the next-generation client/server system will be complete. And although he was candid about NT technology's "many weaknesses", saying that the number of bugs "is very high", he nonetheless characterised the product as the most important in Microsoft's history.
"Beta 3 is more solid than any OS we've ever shipped," Allchin said. "In our stress tests, it performs better than NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4."
Allchin outlined four areas that he focuses on when developing software: reliability, Internet services, management, and simplicity.
Windows 2000 addresses reliability and the Internet, Allchin said, but post-Windows 2000 versions would have to focus on simplicity and manageability. A next-generation project that is code-named Neptune, a consumer-oriented OS first shown off publicly in July 1997, will focus on user interface enhancements, and take multitasking to a higher level, he said.
When asked whether the popularity of the open-source Linux OS was "a referendum on Microsoft", Allchin responded, "Linux is Unix... I don't consider it to be very innovative."
Allchin said that although Linux momentum could be traced in part to unfavourable perceptions about Microsoft, "it's not something I'm sitting here super-worried about, either".
"The profit motive will end up ruining and tarnishing the altruism people use to promote this thing," Allchin said.
Allchin - who, unlike other conference speakers, did not take questions from the audience - also disputed the notion that by constantly integrating more functionality into Windows, Microsoft hurts third-party vendors that build specific tools and utilities.
Indeed, Allchin said the company's first impulse is to say "keep it out (of Windows); we don't want it". However, customers often request that Microsoft build something itself - NT-Unix interoperability software, for example - because they are not happy with what third parties offer.
In other instances, Allchin said, integration makes sense. As an example, he mentioned blending the Internet Explorer browser into Windows, a bone of contention in the antitrust case filed by the federal government against Microsoft.
On other topics, Allchin said that Microsoft developers internally were comparing Intellimirror - a caching technology in Windows 2000 - with Windows Terminal Server to see which technology performs those functions better.
"We think Intellimirror could end up being much better than Terminal Server, but we don't know yet," Allchin said.
Allchin also commented on how Microsoft often gets a bad rap for a perceived lack of innovation. Allchin ticked off some Microsoft innovations, including kernel enhancements and telephony features in Windows 2000, but added that there was nothing wrong with "standing on the shoulders of giants" and adopting good ideas developed by others.
Allchin also said he considers Microsoft's biggest challenges to be the consumer electronics market, Sun Microsystems, and a "bucket" of other competitors, including Linux vendors, Novell, and high-end enterprise technology.