Technology industry pundits continue to predict more delays before the final delivery of an upgrade to Microsoft's Windows NT operating system.
Citing continued delays in an ongoing test process, or beta, for forthcoming client and server versions of NT 5.0 and the complexity of the undertaking, the Gartner Group advised its user client base today that production deployments of the operating system are not advised until 2001.
The industry consultants also predict that a production version of the operating system will not ship in 1999 due to the incomplete nature of a promised forthcoming second beta, due by the end of the summer, and the inclusion of a third beta in the test process.
"There's just no way we see Microsoft shipping a useable, stable version of NT 5.0 anytime in 1999," said Michael Gartenberg, research director with Gartner.
The NT 5.0 upgrade is expected to push Microsoft into the upper echelons of corporate computing where veteran software from Unix providers such as Sun Microsystems and alternatives from the likes of IBM. For this reason, the timing of the release of NT 5.0 is thought to be highly strategic for Microsoft, since its availability may torpedo some sales of other operating systems.
Gartner predicted the software giant will not deliver a beta "appropriate for full-function testing purposes" until the second quarter of next year when it ships the third beta in what was originally scheduled to be a two-beta process. The consultant advises that users should continue to purchase proven operating system software such as NT 4.0 with the appropriate service packs, Novell's NetWare, and flavors of Unix.
Another factor that Gartner expects will contribute to delays in widespread NT 5.0 deployment is the ever-present specter of the Year 2000 problem. Due to an expected massive diversion of resources toward fixing Y2K software compatibility issues, Gartner expects information technology professionals to divert their attention from operating system upgrades, among other tasks.
Gartner's pronouncement follows a scathing report this spring from Forrester Research that predicted that by the time NT 5.0 is ready for widespread adoption, "NT's enterprise aspirations will be usurped by the rise of Internet computing and a new competitive landscape."
Pundit Giga Information Group also recently weighed in on the client NT Workstation 5.0 release, telling users to ignore an upgrade from 4.0 since it "requires significant sacrifice [in terms of compatibility] in return for little or no practical gain."
Microsoft has recently been forced to bite the bullet concerning its ambitious shipping schedules for NT 5.0, leaving itself open to criticism from various corners of the industry.
Gartner points to the variety of services and added features, like Active Directory, Zero Administration for Windows tools, and inclusion of Terminal Server, that remain incomplete in the current beta.
The final version of NT 5.0 is expected to be about 35 million lines of code. In comparison, Windows NT 4.0 with the option pack installed, is about 15 million lines of code, and Windows NT 3.51 is only 5 million lines of code.
"Any time you generate that level of complexity, you're going to have delays in getting this out the door," Gartenberg noted.
Among the recommendations Gartner offers its clients is to "ignore the hype from Microsoft that an upgrade to NT 4.0 positions an organization for an easier upgrade to NT 5.0, whether at the desktop or server."
Due to delays in the operating system that will eventually become the primary sales driver for the company, Microsoft could feel the pinch on the revenue front from further NT 5.0 delays.
At an analyst day in Seattle last month, the company addressed delays in NT as it related to the bottom line. "The company did suggest that over the next few quarters or so, the delay in the NT 5.0 shipment schedule and the potential diversion of information technology spending among enterprise customers toward fixing the Y2K problem may result in a deceleration in NT Server and BackOffice revenue growth," said a report from ING Baring Furman Selz LLC following the briefing.
Others believe delivery of NT 5.0 after the new millennium is unlikely. "I'd be surprised if it slipped into 2000," said Dwight Davis, Microsoft analyst with Summit Strategies.