Windows ME: A Pain for Users?

FRAMINGHAM (03/10/2000) - Microsoft Corp. has quietly eliminated LAN features from its forthcoming Windows ME client operating system, which may effectively force enterprise users into migrating to Windows 2000.

In Windows Millennium Edition (ME), Microsoft has stripped out software needed to connect to Novell NetWare or Banyan file servers, and the operating system won't support an interface into Microsoft's Active Directory. The actions appear to leave enterprise customers on Windows 9.X platforms little upgrade choice but to move to Windows 2000.

"This is a shocking surprise," says Juan Mota, manager of system integration for Excell Agent Services, a Phoenix-based call center. "I'm wondering how we will address our telecommuters who use their personal machines running consumer Windows to connect to our network. They don't want Windows 2000 because it's too much overhead, too much functionality."

Mota is setting up a virtual private network that would support Windows 95, 98 and ME desktops. Now he wonders how users who upgrade to Windows ME will connect to his Novell file servers.

"The message is, don't use ME in the business environment," says Neil MacDonald, an analyst at Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn., who last week published a bulletin on the issue. "Microsoft is pulling out functionality so people don't take that step," he says. MacDonald called the move "shortsighted" because, among other factors, Windows 2000 means a more expensive upgrade for enterprises.

Microsoft is touting ME - scheduled to ship in May as the successor to Windows 98 - as its consumer operating system, and is now using technology limitations to strengthen Windows 2000 as a business operating system, MacDonald says. ME, however, still has the Microsoft network client for connections to NT domains and broadband services.

"We have been very upfront that we were designing ME for home use," says Shawn Sanford, group product manager in the Windows division. "It's an interesting situation, but we are not hindering anyone from using ME in the enterprise. You can add a client from Novell or Banyan."

For users with 9.X desktops, Microsoft is recreating the situation enterprises face when contemplating the move from Windows 9.X to NT Workstation, most notably higher costs for migration and licensing, as well as application and hardware compatibility issues. This time, however, Microsoft is limiting choice.

Enterprises can elect to stay on aging Windows 95 or 98 platforms and install an optional Active Directory client, or install software from Novell or Banyan to connect ME to systems from those vendors.

Novell is developing its Client32 software for Windows ME, according to Paul Abbott, product manager for NetWare.

But Excell's Mota says he doesn't want to install extra software on users' personal machines. "At that point, I have to take liability for the machine," he says. "I have to take on the cost of managing that desktop."

Others likened the move to the types of business practices that got Microsoft involved in its long-running antitrust case with the U.S. Department of Justice.

"This is so anti good business," says John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group in Phoenix. "It's a lot easier to sell Windows 2000 Server if you force customers to [migrate to] 2000 Professional. Taking functionality out is the worst way to move business customers."

Windows 2000 was to be the combination of the NT and 9.X code base. When that fell apart last year, Millennium became the next 9.X extension. Users want the code bases combined, not another divergent path.

"One problem with a split business/consumer code base is you have things like graphic cards and drivers that do not work across the code bases," says Rick Shope, manager of PC technology and planning for NationsBanc-CRT in Chicago. "A common code base allows for common hardware and reduces my costs. It would be better if they offered a slimmed-down version of Windows 2000 Pro."

A recent Meta Group study concluded that the cost of upgrading a desktop to Windows 2000 could be as high as $1,800, most of which is the hardware upgrade.

Microsoft has yet to set system requirements for ME, but the company is unlikely to match those of Windows 2000 Pro, which users and analysts report needs at least a 300-MHz Pentium II machine with 128M bytes of RAM. Microsoft recommends a Pentium 133 or better with a minimum of 64M bytes of RAM.

Additionally, an upgrade from Windows 95 or 98 to Windows 2000 costs $219.

Comparable costs don't yet exist for Windows ME, but Windows 98 is $89 to upgrade from Windows 95.

The irony of splitting the operating system for business users and consumers now is that Microsoft will re-join its business and consumer operating systems under the same NT-based code base in 2001 with a product code-named Whistler.

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