SAN MATEO (01/28/2000) - NEXT MONTH'S release of Windows 2000 will prompt companies to make critical decisions about the future of their desktop strategies and computing architectures.
As users decide whether to go through the expense and aggravation of upgrading their desktop PCs to make them suitable for Windows 2000 Professional, thin-client vendors are using the opportunity to press their argument for abandoning the "fat" client model.
Citrix, for example, next month will announce that it has integrated Project Charlotte, a Web-based version of its Program Neighborhood, with its MetaFrame for Windows 2000 and Windows Terminal Server products. Charlotte will give users access to any application without requiring HTML, scripting, Java, or other Internet means of delivering applications.
With the trend toward centralized computing, the idea of upgrading desktops for Windows 2000 is giving IT departments pause for thought.
"It looks to me that an awful lot of people are going to have to upgrade or replace their [desktop] systems to support Windows 2000, and why would you upgrade the machine to a heavier OS when the trend is ... [to move] things to servers?" said Dan Kuznetsky, an analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass.
Rob Enderle, vice president at Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, Calif., said older systems are particularly vulnerable to the need for upgrades.
"Windows 2000 will have problems with about 15 percent of [existing] machines," Enderle added.
However, one user said figures at his company are higher than that.
"We plan 33 percent replacements, and ... there will be some that need memory or BIOS," said Brian Jaffe, a New York IT director who has an all-Windows 9x shop.
IDC estimates that at the end of 1999, the installed base of Windows 9x was 182 million, and only 28.1 million for Windows NT. Those figures, compared to 138 million for Windows 9x and 17.2 million for Windows NT at the end of 1998, show that Windows 9x should stay relevant.
But for large corporations with less powerful machines running Windows 9x, there is another option: Using Windows 2000 on the server and converting the existing desktops into semi-thin clients.
In addition, the consensus that most IT shops will wait as much as a year and a half to adopt Windows 2000 will give these Web-based applications time to take hold.
"Our estimation of how Windows 2000 will be adopted is fairly slow," Kuznetsky said. "While that trend is going on, we [also] see the growth in Web-oriented applications, and as they move in that direction, the tie to Windows 2000 is lessened."
According to the Giga Information Group, installing or upgrading to Windows 2000 Professional will cost from $970 to $1,640 per desktop system. Installing or upgrading servers will run a company approximately $107 per client, based on a 5,000-user network, Giga reasoned.
That price, Enderle said, is worth it when the potential benefits are considered. Other issues factor in, Enderle said, such as businesses that are on a two-or three-year hardware replacement cycle.
"We know customers are buying new hardware [on a regular basis]," said Craig Beilinson, lead product manager for Windows 2000 at Microsoft. "Customers recycle about one-third [of their hardware] each year. That's a very sure way to migrate over to the desktop."
But some analysts feel the momentum is shifting from fat clients.
"The argument in favor of thin clients gets better all the time," said Roger Kay, PC analyst at IDC.
Most companies with 1,000 or more employees are likely to take their time in deploying Windows 2000.
Rate of adoption - Percent of companies
* Immediately - 13.2
* Six months - 39.9
* One year - 27.4
* Within two years - 14.7
* No plans to deploy - 4.8
Microsoft merges OS projects
Microsoft operating system developers working on Neptune, the forthcoming consumer version of Windows NT, and those building Odyssey, the upgrade to Windows 2000, are now working on the same project: Whistler.
"Whistler is the code name for the next iteration of Windows," Craig Beilinson, lead product manager for Windows 2000, said last week. "In an effort to streamline those Windows development efforts, we're combining those projects into one product."
The change comes about one month after the company senior vice president, James Allchin, was tapped to run a united Windows Division at Microsoft.
Beilinson said that the change in development strategies -- which came as a surprise to many because beta versions of Neptune were shipped to testers in December -- was not an indication that Microsoft's oft-stated goal of ending the Windows 9x OS line in favor of a "Consumer NT" brand had hit another delay.
An update to Windows 98, code-named Millennium, is slated for release later this year. Whistler, still on the drawing board and with no release date slated, "is designed to be the next iteration of Windows for both Windows 2000 and Millennium users," Beilinson said.
According to Microsoft, the project's code name does not indicate any plans to integrate into the operating system text-to-speech technology, currently under development at Microsoft and also code-named Whistler.
Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., is at www.microsoft.com.