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Windows Me to eliminate some networking support

Microsoft has dropped support for some networking technology from its upcoming Windows Me consumer operating system.

Microsoft has dropped support for some networking technology from its upcoming Windows Me consumer operating system in a move analysts say is intended to nudge customers to the company's more lucrative Windows 2000 software.

Windows Me, formerly known by its code-name, Millennium, will not include technology that allows users to connect directly to corporate local area networks (LANs) running Novell or Banyan file server software, the company confirmed. News of the decision first appeared in a report from the Gartner Group, a market analysis firm.

Unlike previous Microsoft operating systems, Windows Me, expected to debut this fall, is positioned solely for home users, who would be unlikely to connect their PCs to corporate networks. Microsoft argues that the networking technology being dropped from Windows Me is more of a hassle for consumers, not a convenience.

Banyan and Novell both say the decision will not have much of an effect on their customers, who generally use Windows NT or Windows 2000.

Still, by removing Windows Me as an option for some people, Microsoft is subtly forcing them to upgrade to the more expensive and complicated Windows 2000, analysts argue. The networking features being removed from Windows Me were available in Windows 95 and Windows 98, which Microsoft said were also targeted at consumers.

"Microsoft wants to push business users to Windows 2000," said Simon Yates, an analyst with Forrester Research.

In removing support for Novell's file server software, Microsoft is making life difficult for the small or home business user who wants to use Windows Me, according to Paul Abbott, a product manager with Novell.

"It's a lame attempt on their part to make it more diffifcult for customers to be more centrally located," Abbott said. "They have to know (Windows Me) will be used by the small-business market, who don't have mountains of money to upgrade. All they're doing is hurting the small-business market and making life more difficult for the customer."

Windows 2000 debuted last month. Earlier this week the company said it has sold more than a million copies of the operating system.

Microsoft says the decision to drop support for Banyan and Novell clients was motivated by its plans to make Windows Me simpler for consumers to use than previous versions of Windows. Microsoft's own networking client software, which will ship with Windows Me, allows people to connect to digital subscriber line (DSL) or broadband connections, which consumers are more likely to use than corporate networking technology, the company says.

Windows 2000: The next generation "Windows Me was always designed as a consumer offering for home users," said Sean Sanford, group product manager for Windows at Microsoft. "We're creating an offering for the home space, and we want to make sure the technology is focused on what delivers the biggest benefit to the home user. (Novell's) Netware client or the Banyan client is not going to affect the home user."

But that marketing distinction is artificial, argues Gartner Group's Michael Gartenberg. For small or older businesses using older applications not supported by Windows 2000, Windows 98 is a suitable operating system. These companies are effectively being forced to upgrade to Windows 2000, he said.

"This is a not-so-subtle push from Microsoft to force users to use Windows 2000 whether they want to or not," Gartenberg said. "Microsoft is saying you no longer have that as a viable choice; they're creating a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Consumers first?
Microsoft's decision to drop the technologies also reflects the growing confusion in the PC world about the needs of home computer users. While PCs offering faster processor speeds and larger storage capacities than ever before continue to drop in price, PC and software makers are focusing on providing simplicity and ease of use, rather than mimicking the features of corporate products. Windows Me, with its tagline of "It Just Works," reflects this movement toward simplicity.

"It's marketing-driven in that they're clearly trying to differentiate one product for business and one product for the home," said Joe Clabby, a software analyst with The Aberdeen Group.

Microsoft says people desperate for Novell or Banyan software have two options: Upgrade to Windows 2000, or turn to those companies for client software.

Microsoft's own networking client will continue to be offered in Windows Me, raising questions about whether the decision was, in fact, technology driven or whether it was motivated by competitive concerns.

There are few scenarios in which a home user would have a need for Novell or Banyon software, according to Clabby. "Both Novell and Banyan were primarily a file and print server system," he said. "As an analyst, I believe I'd like Microsoft to offer as many choices as possible, but I can see their logic on this."

Banyan concurs with this assesment. "We deal with the corporate side anyway," said Joe Biggs, director of the Microsoft practice at Banyan. "Most of the commercial companies are going with Windows 2000 Pro. That's the key platform; I don't think this has a tremendous impact on us."

But Gartenberg contends that many small businesses that have standardized on Windows 95 and 98 will be hurt by the move, noting that Windows 2000 costs about $100 more per copy than Windows 98 or Windows Me. "We think it's a mistake they're making. Organizations don't like to be dictated to."

The development of Windows Me historically has been somewhat tumultuous. Originally envisioned as the consumer version of Windows NT, Microsoft dramatically scaled back its focus as part of a decision to extend Windows 98 into a family of products. The company will release a consumer version of Windows 2000 within the next five years, Microsoft has said.

Although Windows Me is expected to incorporate some of the look and feel of Windows NT, the product is more focused on providing support for new consumer technologies, including digital media and home networking, rather than attempting to achieve the same level of stability and reliability that Microsoft has touted with Windows 2000.