Microsoft stalls IPv6 progress

Microsoft is dragging its feet on integrating IPv6 -- an upgrade to the standard internet communications protocol -- into future versions of Windows, prompting internet leaders to launch a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign directed at Bill Gates.

Proponents of Internet Protocol Version 6 have been working over the past month to set up a meeting between Vint Cerf, one of the creators of the internet and honorary chairman of the IPv6 Forum, and Microsoft chairman Gates to discuss the company's support for IPv6 in upcoming products. No date for the meeting has been set, but IPv6 supporters are hoping Cerf can convince Gates to commit his company more definitively to the upgrade.

Any extended delay in Microsoft's integration of IPv6 in Windows 2000 would be a setback for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which for six years has been working on an upgrade to the 20-year-old IPv4 protocol.

The IETF has developed and tested a core set of IPv6 standards and has established a working group to promote widespread usage of them. IPv6 offers many benefits to enterprise customers, including a significant increase in the number of IP addresses they can reserve, as well as easier administration and tighter security.

Microsoft is a member of the IPv6 Forum, a group of 50 companies that was formed in July to foster adoption of the new standard. Additionally, a Microsoft employee -- Tony Hain -- is one of three co-chairs of the IETF IP Next Generation Transition Working Group. But despite this show of support, the company has not yet agreed to integrate IPv6 into its products, particularly Windows 2000. Currently, Microsoft offers an IPv6 protocol stack for Windows NT that can be downloaded from the company's Web site, but the stack is for experimental, rather than production, use.

"There is no official support yet from Microsoft for IPv6," says Alain Durand, another chair of the IP Next Generation Transition Working Group and a research engineer at IMAG in Grenoble, France. "From my understanding, IPv6 is not a priority for Windows 2000."

Microsoft didn't do much to dispel that notion in a statement issued to Network World last week.

"Microsoft has made significant investments in exploring this technology," the company says. "However, due to the experimental nature of IPv6, Microsoft will not support it in Windows 2000, but will continue to solicit customer feedback and explore implementations in future versions of Windows."

The implications extend beyond Microsoft products, according to another IETF official.

"For IPv6 to be rolled out in the internet as we know it today, it requires a wide availability of products, such as Cisco routers, Sun workstations and Microsoft servers and workstations to support IPv6," says Bob Fink, the third co-chair of the working group. "This way systems administrators and network administrators won't have to make a decision about running IPv4 or IPv6. They can simply run both, so the transition can happen naturally.

"To date, we have strong commitments from Sun and Cisco," Fink continues. "But from Microsoft, we have meritorious efforts by the research [side of the company], but no firm commitments on the product side and no information about the status of the work and when it might be done. We certainly believe it is essential to the industry that Microsoft support this effort."

Durand would like to see Microsoft integrate an IPv6 protocol stack within Windows, so everyone who buys a PC running Windows will automatically receive the new standard. He says this type of integration is necessary for production use of IPv6.

"What we would like is some kind of commitment from Microsoft, to have Microsoft say that they are really going to support IPv6 and that we would see a product in a year or so," Durand says. He is "confident" Microsoft will do so once customer demand picks up, he says.

IPv6 is already supported in IBM's AIX operating system and in various flavours of Linux. Meanwhile, Trumpet Software International of Australia is shipping an IPv6 protocol stack for Windows 95, 98 and NT systems.

Still, Microsoft's lack of support "is a problem, because most of the machines that we have now on the internet are PCs running Windows," Durand says.

Reluctant to paint Microsoft as the heavy, Cerf says the IPv6 transition is also being slowed by "a lack of strong incentive for software and hardware vendors to prepare for it. Customers are not yet pressing the matter."

"However, the rapid growth of the internet outside the US and the entry of large quantities of IP-requiring end devices -- such as cell phones, personal digital assistants and internet-enabled televisions -- may be key to such demand," he adds.

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