Speaking to a small group of reporters and analysts here, President Steve Ballmer described improvements to the company's business-use operating system software, focusing on reliability and improved performance while brushing aside questions about a company's recent antitrust setback.
"Windows 2000 is the most important product we've done since Windows 95," he said. "We have great hope for the product for the business user--it's spot on."
Windows 2000 will enter the final testing stage this week before its February 17 release, he confirmed.
The rhetoric was in keeping with the high profile Microsoft has assumed at this year's Comdex trade event, despite its recent legal woes. Company Chairman Bill Gates kicked off the show with a keynote address Sunday night, unveiling the prototype for the company's new Web Companion device. In addition, the company has made several announcements regarding new relationships in its Windows CE and Windows Media products.
Designed for use in large companies and similar organizations, Windows 2000 offers improved manageability, reliability, security and specially designed support for Web servers running high-traffic Internet sites, Ballmer said. Microsoft has been criticized in the past for failing to offer adequate security and consistent performance, he admitted.
In addition, the more advanced editions of Windows 2000 offer features designed to support reliable, crash-free e-commerce sites, Ballmer said. "The Net as we know it today is not the same as the Net will be in three years," he said. "It will change substantively," by linking existing services and integrating online information seamlessly, he predicted.
Microsoft's president also claimed that most users will notice improvements in the way desktop and notebook computers interact with so-called third-party devices, like digital cameras and music players. These devices are unwieldy to connect and configure with today's computers because of faulty device drivers, he said. Device drivers are software that allow the external products to work with the operating system.
"From an end-user perspective, it's a real step forward," he said, adding that after the software's introduction, Microsoft will work on compatibility with consumer PCs so that individual and home users can purchase the software.
Windows 2000 also adds new tools to make it simpler to distribute software and operating system updates across networks of computers, Ballmer said.
Microsoft senior vice president Jim Allchin noted that the company spent over 500 person-years and $162 million in testing Windows 2000 over the past three years. Most of that testing was geared toward reducing the number of system crashes which can be attributed to problems with the operating system, Allchin said.
Despite today's bragging session, the release of Windows 2000 will be relatively low key by Microsoft standards, for many reasons. In addition to the company's ongoing legal problems, the product will not be sold through retailers on debut. Microsoft also recognizes that many companies are not planning to buy and install the software until much later in the year because of Year 2000 issues and because they want to wait until after the first round of bug fixes.
"We won't have lines around the block or 'midnight madness' sales--it's a product for business," Ballmer said. "The measure might not be best taken at midnight on February 17. A different measuring stick should apply."