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Commentary: Windows 2000: It's a matter of when, not if

Microsoft is underestimating the amount of time it will take for the widespread adoption of Windows 2000 by businesses.

By Neil MacDonald, Gartner Analyst

Businesses have adopted Windows 2000 more slowly than Microsoft would have liked. Gartner believes the gap between Microsoft's expectations and the actual deployment rates indicates the software giant's lack of understanding of how its customers plan, deploy and support its products.

On the server side, adoption

See news story:
Slumping Microsoft beats estimates
of Windows 2000 has been slow. Gartner expects businesses will convert no more than 5 percent of installed Windows NT v.4 servers to Windows 2000 by year-end 2000.

For one thing, planning the migration takes time. Take Active Directory planning as an example. The planning effort from the very beginning involves many workers. A typical Active Directory design team will have about a dozen members from multiple parts of the business. Politics absorb 80 percent of the time spent planning the Active Directory design and migration process, while only 20 percent relate to actual technical issues.

Microsoft severely underestimated the political ramifications of Active Directory deployments and, as a result, underestimated the amount of time it would take businesses to begin widespread adoption. The average business will spend six to nine months in the planning and pilot phase for Active Directory.

Consequently, Gartner does not expect mainstream adoption of Active Directory to begin in earnest until 2001.

Driven primarily by hardware replacements, adoption of Windows 2000 on the desktop has gone faster than with servers, but it is still slower than Microsoft would like. By the end of this year, Gartner expects that no more than 10 percent of Microsoft's installed base for the earlier version of Windows will have converted.

For those slow to move away from the tried-and-true Windows 95, Microsoft has chosen to use a "stick" rather than a "carrot" to force those people to move to Windows 2000. With the release of the consumer-oriented Windows Me, Microsoft announced that it will discontinue bug-fix support for Windows 95 in November 2000. (Businesses can get an additional year of bug-fix support from Microsoft for an undisclosed price.)

Although Microsoft has the right to discontinue support for its older products, Gartner's opinion is that providing 90 days notice was insufficient and insensitive to the needs of Microsoft's larger customers.

For both desktop and server, a lack of "killer" applications requiring Windows 2000 has slowed adoption and makes it harder to cost-justify a migration based on straightforward return on investment. Exchange 2000 is the first of Microsoft's BackOffice applications that runs only on Windows 2000 and requires Active Directory. Microsoft will likely continue this trend with all of its BackOffice products as it delivers new versions through 2001.

On the desktop, Microsoft cannot afford to stop supporting its Windows 98 installed base. It plans a new release of Office 10 in 2001; however, Microsoft has stated that Office 10 will not support Windows 95.

In the end, enterprises will deploy Windows 2000--whether by choice or because Microsoft will force them--but the pace will remain slow. Even by year-end 2001, only about 40 percent of desktops and servers will have converted to Windows 2000.

Microsoft's desire to generate new revenue via software churn and the desire of businesses to migrate to new software in a smooth and orderly manner will remain at odds with one another.

(For related commentary on Windows 2000, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2000 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.