Microsoft itself announced its "channel readiness initiative," which consists of new training offerings, a Channel Readiness Kit, and the Online Resource Center.
A Corporate Preview Program was also announced through which a corporate customer can pre-order versions of Windows 2000 Professional and Server for $59.95. The deal includes a five-seat license of the Windows 2000 client, a two-server license of the back-end portion of the operating system, and several support initiatives. The new program is an add-on to the company's current testing plans, which have targeted 250,000 users.
The third beta of Windows 2000, Microsoft's successor to its Windows NT 4.0 operating system, is expected to be shipped next week to PC makers after many delays, with an expected shipping date of the final version later this fall. Some PC companies participating in the new partner programs are offering computers pre-loaded with the operating system, while others are simply offering Web-based support for customers who choose to independently upgrade.
"In many ways, Microsoft is treating the release of beta three as a final release of software," said Jon Perera, lead product manager for Windows 2000.
Dell, for example, will begin taking a limited number of orders in May for factory installation of Windows 2000 on its PowerEdge servers, Precision workstations, OptiPlex desktops, and Latitude notebooks, and begin shipping the systems in June, according to Bill Peterson, director of marketing for Dell's OptiPlex group.
"Most major companies want to evaluate it this year," Peterson said, noting that under Dell's strategy, organizations can evaluate third party applications and performance without worrying about installation headaches. "With a factory-installed version, the drivers are installed, and the BIOS is there," he said.
Dell will charge a premium of $70 for the Windows 2000 computers, he said, which includes additional phone support and the latest version of Windows NT 4.0.
Other companies are launching readiness kits and Web-based support, but stopping short of offering Windows 2000 beta 3 on shipping computers. Hewlett-Packard, for example, announced today support for Windows 2000 in its Brio and Vectra PCs, as well as its Kayak workstations and OmniBook notebooks, but declined to comment on any "financial details," according to a spokesman, including whether the company will charge a premium for computers shipped with the Windows 2000 beta, or offer a free upgrade.
"Yes, we're going to support Windows 2000, but nothing has been finalized," the company spokesman said.
Other companies took the opportunity to roll out Web-based initiatives to advise companies through the upgrade process. Toshiba, for example, will provide necessary BIOS, driver, and utility upgrades on its Web site, along with white papers and links to Microsoft, the company announced.
Dell is also launching a Web site to help customers determine which PCs in their organizations can be upgraded to Windows 2000, Peterson said. "Our Windows 2000 dedicated Web site has seen a lot of traffic," he said.
Dell will also launch its Windows 2000 Premier Migration Program to "assist corporate customers through every step of their migration to Windows 2000," according to a company statement. This program will assist organizations in determining which legacy computers are suitable for upgrades, identifying hardware support requirements, and making necessary device drivers available, the company said.
Computers need at least 64MB of RAM, a 300-MHz processor, and support for the new euro currency to run Windows 2000, Microsoft has said in the past.
Microsoft has started to implement Windows 2000 across its internal computers. At the company's Redmond, Washington campus, about 27,000 employees are currently using Windows 2000 Server's Active Directory as a means to log-on to their internal computing resources, according to Perera.
News.com's Ben Heskett contributed to this report.