Microsoft releases beta of XP OS

Microsoft Corp. employees from Bill Gates on down are hailing the beta release of the Windows XP operating system as the first step in an ambitious attempt by the company to gradually shift the entire computer industry to a single, unified operating system.

But analysts voiced concerns that Microsoft's enthusiasm about XP could potentially alienate users running other Microsoft OSes, particularly companies still mired in deploying Windows 2000. The XP beta became available last week in Anaheim, Calif., the scene of WinHEC 2001, the company's annual hardware conference.

By the end of the year Microsoft will roll out a full suite of XP operating systems that will eventually replace all of the company's current OSes, including the recently released Windows Me and Windows 2000, according to Greg Sullivan, a lead product manager at Microsoft. A reliable Windows NT kernel base, XML features, and a simplified desktop interface are all incentives to jump to XP, Sullivan said.

Users will win with XP's reliability, but Microsoft also scores by going forward with plans to manage only one code base, said Tony Iams, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates in Port Chester, N.Y.

"[Microsoft's] quality of life will be a lot easier with one code base," Iams said. "They really want people to go to Windows XP."

Upgrading is optional, but the clock will be ticking, according to Roger Kay, an industry analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

"If you look at [Microsoft's] bulk licensing policy, they will support an OS in its entirety for five years, but only three years of that is full support, then there's two years of declining support, and the fifth year they say, 'Here's the code and you're on your own.' Even Windows 98 is going off the support list very quickly," Kay explained. Companies are safe to continue to deploy Windows 2000 "from now until 2002," Kay believes.

"If you are evaluating Windows 2000 right now, even if you're well down the path of installing [it], keep going. [Windows 2000] and XP are designed to coexist," Sullivan said.

"Microsoft is saying to evaluate XP alongside 2000 as the successor to 2000. But if you are not involved in deploying 2000 right now, you might as well wait for XP," Kay argued.

Sullivan said better communication from Microsoft to its corporate customers could have tempered the deployment of Windows 2000 as a server platform. Such a move would have simplified the migration to XP as Microsoft's server platform of choice. The appearance of overlapping priorities from Microsoft could have been avoided.

"I think one of the things that we could have done better with Windows 2000 was communicating the value of running Windows 2000 Professional in spite of what your server architecture was. What happened was a lot of companies looked at Windows 2000 as a platform and said, 'We have to plan for our Active Directory deployment, we have to fully plan our server deployment, we have to put all that infrastructure in place, and then we can put Windows 2000 Professional on the client,' " Sullivan said.

The server-based components of Windows XP will likely ship sometime in 2002, Sullivan said.

"I fault [Microsoft] for being overenthusiastic [about XP]," said IDC's Kay, who believes "too much fanfare" could make Windows 2000 customers feel abandoned, thinking that "all the buzz is in the XP area."

OS essentials

Microsoft set minimum system requirements to run Windows XP Beta 2 relatively high compared to the average consumer PC.

* 300MHz Intel Pentium II processor

* 128MB RAM

* 2GB free hard drive space

* SVGA monitor


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