The Redmond, Washington-based software giant has tapped Unisys (UIS) to provide services and development expertise for Windows NT. The move adds Unisys to a growing list of systems companies that offer services and support for Microsoft products. Other giants that have signed on to bolster the software company's services include Digital Equipment and Hewlett-Packard.
Dwight Davis, editorial director for Windows Watcher, a Microsoft-focused newsletter, said, "These are companies that Microsoft is using to overcome the fact that Microsoft is still viewed with some suspicion as an enterprise company."
Under terms of the agreement, Unisys will certify 2,000 professionals for Windows NT enterprise support within three years and establish several centers to conduct software applications testing on NT. Furthermore, the agreement calls for Unisys to boost many of its applications for vertical markets--such as government agencies and financial services--for Windows NT. Microsoft software optimization for its BackOffice suite of applications is also planned, according to the companies.
Lawrence Weinbach, chairman, president, and CEO of Unisys, said, "It helps Microsoft further Windows NT's penetration into mission-critical environments."
Essentially, Microsoft is using the third parties for their system expertise as Windows NT Server grows as an operating system for enterprise applications. To this point, Windows NT has grown at the expense of other department operating environments such as Novell NetWare, IBM OS/2, and various low-end Unix purveyors like the Santa Cruz Operation.
But the next version of Windows NT, due out sometime next year, is expected to close the gap between Microsoft's software and enterprise Unix-based competitors like Sun Microsystems and IBM. Critics, however, are quick to discount Microsoft's enterprise aspirations, citing several Unix-based operating systems' large leads in reliability for critical software applications.
On the services side, Microsoft is counting on these third parties to fill a void in its own internal service organization. The partnerships are also intended to address the overall lack of expertise in systems service and support, Microsoft said.
Steve Ballmer, executive vice president of sales and support at Microsoft, said, "There is still more demand for these services than supply. The problem today is there is an absolute shortage of skills."
Microsoft was also criticized several years ago, according to analysts, for attempting to provide support for big accounts that were used to dealing with large systems companies. Since that time, the company has increasingly leaned on veterans to fill the services breach.
Added Davis: "Microsoft's actually done a good job of figuring out a formula."
Unisys, which has struggled at times to evolve from its mainframe and mid-range computing roots, may be looking toward others who have reaped financial benefit from a close affiliation with Windows NT. The turnaround at Data General is a prominent example, with that company posting record results due largely to growth in its NT-based business.