Persistent doubts dog Windows 2000

Windows 2000 shipped more than two years ago, yet network executives are still wary about the operating system, befuddled by its Active Directory and reluctant to use the software for anything more than basic network operations.

Microsoft Corp.'s forthcoming Windows.Net Server also confuses them.

That's the rough consensus gleaned from interviews at the Windows Decisions conference in Chicago last week, as attendees praised the reliability of Win 2000 - especially on the desktop - but said they remain hesitant to consider the operating system for key business applications now running on Unix or minicomputer platforms. Network executives say their Win 2000 servers are mostly for file and print operations and directory services, and it will remain that way until the operating system incorporates features such as workload management that let multiple applications run reliably on a single server.

"Windows 2000 has been a step in the right direction," says Peter Steinbach, technology solutions consultant for a large telecommunications company he asked not be named. "It's above NT on the desktop and it's positive as far as reliability on the server, but it's been slow on adoption."

Statistics show that Windows NT remains the dominant Windows platform. At the end of last year, almost 60% of the 7 million Windows server operating systems installed were NT, according to IDC. And NT is expected to be a small yet measurable fraction of the installed base through 2006.

IDC research shows that the No. 1 use of Win 2000 is for file and print services, with messaging the No. 2 use. Running applications on a server environment is No. 8.

"To think about cutting out our AS/400 platform for Windows 2000 we would need workload management and partitioning in the operating system to support our major applications," says Tony Moncayo, network services manager for a global apparel manufacturer. Those applications include accounting and warehousing. "People just don't want to move those applications off those trusted platforms."

Experts say it will be the Longhorn release of Windows - expected around the beginning of 2005 - that introduces those types of features to support critical applications such as accounting, manufacturing and accounts receivable.

"We are [International Standards Organization]-certified, and those ISO applications run on Lotus Domino on the AS/400," says Rick Wofford, IS coordinator for Hydro-Gear in Sullivan Ill., which manufactures hydrostatic transaxles for lawn mowers. "We couldn't risk running them on NT, and I'm not yet willing to try them on Windows 2000."

Net executives also continue to struggle with Active Directory, which is a radical change from NT 4's domain structure.

"We spent nearly a year planning our move to Windows 2000, and Active Directory was a major part of that planning," says Edward Rohen, IT systems support technician for The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.

"Active Directory changes the corporate IT landscape and leads to political battles that slow adoption," says IDC's Dan Kusnetzkey.

But network executives are running out of time for infighting because support for NT ends in December 2003. That means users will have to upgrade or run unsupported software.

Many are confused by Windows.Net Server and Microsoft's entire .Net and Web services initiative to deliver software as a service over the Internet.

"With Windows.Net Server I've been wondering what do we have to do different with this. Where do we have to button this down? I understand now what it really is is a .Net moniker on an [operating system] with Active Directory enhancements," says Bill Snyder, a senior consultant at Keane.

Experts classify Windows.Net Server as an incremental upgrade to Win 2000, but the .Net name leads many to think it is a major shift. Even in the confusion, net executives are questioning if it is better to wait for Windows.Net and skip Win 2000.That might be an effective strategy, because any planning for Win 2000 is applicable to Windows.Net because they are so similar.

And Gartner says by the time the majority of NT upgrades are completed, Windows.Net Server will be the mature operating system and Win 2000 will be entering the back end of its life cycle.

Another issue facing network executives is that the server and client are now out of sync. Windows XP shipped last fall, well ahead of its yet-to-be-released companion Windows.Net Server. That means certain network features are not available. The nearly 150 policy objects introduced in XP, which can be used in conjunction with Active Directory to lock down desktops, are unusable until the server ships.

"One of the benefits of Windows 2000 is that the servers and the clients are built for each other," says Dean Sheley, network administrator for Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The delay in Windows.Net server also brings up another issue in that features needed by enterprise users - such as those for Active Directory and group policy - are not available until the entire operating system is shipped. "One of the biggest issues is that parts of the [operating system] need to be updated more frequently," says John Enck, vice president and research director for Gartner. But starting with Win 2000, Microsoft vowed not to ship features in service packs. It is now reconsidering, observers say.

"Users can't wait two years for major releases. The big issue is how do you update components like Active Directory," Enck says.

And the list of considerations deepens with Microsoft's complex and often costly licensing changes, which take effect Aug. 1. The issue is causing network executives to investigate alternatives to Microsoft where it makes sense within their networks.

"We are looking at Linux for file and print operations," says Nathaniel Dean, IS director for Blue Chip Venture Company in Cincinnati. "We know that we can't leave Microsoft completely, but where we can leave it we will." Dean says he is tracking progress of Lindows, a Linux desktop that mimics Windows, and open source alternatives to Microsoft Office.

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