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Firms plan to take time with Windows 2000 transition

Despite the hype surrounding the release of Microsoft?s new operating system, many businesses are uncertain when they'll adopt Windows 2000.

Despite the hype surrounding the release of Microsoft?s new operating system, many businesses are uncertain when they'll adopt Windows 2000.

Some corporations and Microsoft allies claim there are compelling reasons to upgrade to Microsoft's new business-class operating system: improved stability, better hardware support and simpler system administration. Because Windows 2000 will be compatible with existing programs and come as standard equipment on a growing number of PCs, the switch may be inevitable for many firms.

Others, however, plan to take their time in transitioning to the new OS. The first "service pack," or collection of bug fixes, comes out in June, eroding some of the compulsion for early adoption.

A recent report from research firm Gartner Group found that about 25 percent of customers may come across some sort of problem in upgrading to Windows 2000--another factor that builds the case for many firms to wait it out.

But Gartner Group also concluded that the adoption of Windows 2000 would be much faster than that of Windows NT 4, particularly on desktops.

"Client adoption to NT was slow because of impediments--legacy applications, legacy hardware and mobile computing," Gartner Group analyst Michael Gartenberg said.

An estimated 15 to 20 percent of Windows 95, 98 and NT PCs and about 5 percent of the servers will move to Windows 2000 this year, the research firm found.

One customer summed up the feeling of many.

"We're committed to understanding Windows 2000, but we're not sure how we're going to deploy it yet or what the true implications to the company will be," said Jim Smale, IT manager for distributed systems management for agricultural conglomerate Cargill.

"We understand internally this is not a simple NT upgrade," he added.

Although Microsoft will be pushing its operating system in the coming months, it also will get some help from major computer makers that have already included plans to incorporate the OS in new hardware: Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, to name a few.

Corporate customers say there are several reasons why a firm would make the switch, depending on company computing goals and the version of Windows 2000 it chooses to buy.

Mellon Financial said it is moving to Windows 2000 because the bank anticipates customers will also upgrade their own systems. In one of the more dramatic migrations noted so far, the company, which currently uses both Unix and Microsoft servers, will convert all of its systems to Windows 2000.

"We wanted to make sure we were ahead of the curve when Windows 2000 came out so we would have the infrastructure in place to go and support our customers' applications and business needs," said Joe Cirra, Mellon assistant vice president.

Pullquote Pittsburgh-based Mellon has been working with IBM to smooth the transition, which initially focuses on converting nearly 600 servers to Windows 2000. Server conversion will start late in the second quarter of this year, but Mellon doesn't plan on upgrading its more than 17,000 PCs until the fourth quarter.

CenterBeam, a services start-up that offers customers computers, data storage and Internet connectivity for a monthly fee, has built its entire operation on Windows 2000. The start-up standardized on Windows 2000 beta code last year and started offering the new operating system to its customers.

"We found that Windows 2000, even in its early access versions, was the most stable operating system we could get our hands on," said Marc Epstein, CenterBeam's executive vice president of product management and development. Recently, CenterBeam started upgrading customers remotely to final Windows 2000 code.

But Epstein may have another reason to praise Windows 2000. Microsoft and Dell, which provides CenterBeam with its hardware, are both investors in the start-up.

Microsoft during the past year has aggressively worked with companies considering a Windows 2000 migration--and for good reason. Successful early adopters become showcases for other potential customers and service providers.

"Those are the types of companies that are completely jumping in--either they're fully deployed or will be when we launch the product," said Craig Beilinson, lead product manager for Windows 2000. "They even surprised us."

Most companies, Windows 2000: The next generation however, are taking a less aggressive stance. Instead, they are focusing on Windows 2000 for PCs and notebooks, where they can realize an immediate benefit.

Jennifer Langan, Dell's product manager for Microsoft operating systems, said Microsoft's current operating system options force customers to choose between the less reliable Windows 9x and Windows NT. NT is more crash-proof but doesn't provide the same level or variety of hardware support. Windows 2000 will allow them to combine the benefits of both.

"People are very excited about being able to tie the two together and meet all their needs with one OS," Langan said. "We're finding a lot of customers are really interested in Windows 2000. It's not so much a question of if they will go to it, but when."

Windows 2000 potentially means a big boost to portable users, offering the stability and manageability of Windows NT and the device support available with Windows 9x, assuming no bugs crop up. Corporations have long complained about NT's poor power management features as well as its limited support for docking stations and other mobile hardware.

On the server side--with Mellon being a big exception--companies are taking a very conservative approach. A series of server crashes at several e-commerce companies this year has resulted in headaches and financial loss, spurring firms to be careful when choosing their back-end systems. Some companies have thus been reluctant to experiment by getting rid of their installed Unix systems.

Active Directory, which can help technology directors more easily manage corporate networks and is one of the features of Windows 2000, is also prompting extreme amounts of caution. Active Directory will simplify corporate network management, according to Microsoft. The far-ranging nature of the conversion, however, is prompting customers to stick with Novell Directory Services for now.

Cargill, and even Mellon, are among the large corporations still unsure whether to take on the unproven Active Directory. Minneapolis-based Cargill plans "to twilight Novell Directory Services," though the company is "still evaluating whether it will adopt Active Directory," Cargill?s Smale said.