The one thing guaranteed as the new year begins is that by the time the year ends, network operating system developments will be one of 2000's top stories.
Volumes will be written about the operating system, given that Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 will finally be available, and Linux is starting to gain credibility in the enterprise.
And don't discount Novell, which is remaking NetWare to complement the Web, and Unix, which continues to run along at its reliable pace.
So what better way to start the year than to get the vendors to sit down and extol the virtues of their wares and defend the weaknesses in their products?
And what better forum for that discussion than Network World's Network Operating System Showdown? IBM, Microsoft, Novell, The Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) and Red Hat Software will convene at ComNet 2000 on Wednesday, Jan. 26 in Washington, D.C., to face questions from a panel of experts, each other and audience members.
With e-commerce spreading operating system responsibilities beyond the firewall, there will be plenty of debate about which company has the right stuff to scale to the number of users the Web will bring.
This year, IT executives are likely to evaluate their operating systems in an effort to harden their infrastructures to handle those external users as well as traditional internal chores. For many, the question will not be which is the best operating system, but how to make them all work together -- whether they are handling file and print services, controlling the network, hosting applications or supporting Web commerce.
At the showdown, these topics are likely to generate more friction than the Democrats and the Republicans can muster in an entire legislative session.
That's because IT executives will come armed with questions about interoperability, security, scalability, specialized deployments, standard and API support, and total cost of ownership.
For example, Julia Goldberg, executive vice president of corporate technology services for Razorfish.com, wants to know the level of commitment each vendor has to open standards. Goldberg's network includes Windows NT, NetWare and Unix, and she wants those systems to play together nicely. She is especially concerned about Microsoft's implementation of the Kerberos authentication standard in Win 2000, which includes some proprietary extensions that erode its level of interoperability.
Craig Zimmer, network systems engineer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wants to know what vendors are doing to promote application development. He is especially interested in Novell's efforts. "What are they doing to bring developers on board to write to their platform?" Zimmer asks.