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Microsoft looks to year 2000

Microsoft sketches a picture of where its Windows operating systems and applications will stand in 2000.

SEATTLE--The world may come to an end when we reach the millennium, but that doesn't faze Microsoft. In its afternoon-long briefing here yesterday, the software behemoth sketched a picture of where its Windows operating systems and applications will stand in the year 2000.

--Office 97: The dominant office productivity suite will go through at least one and possibly two iterations in the next two-and-a-half years, according to vice president of platforms

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and applications Paul Maritz. His staff yesterday presented a cursory outline of what the company has in store for Office, with promises of cutting the cost of owning and deploying the ever-expanding suite by 50 percent. The plans follow along the lines of the company's new "zero administration" credo, with centrally administered software installations and updates reducing the amount of time IS managers spend updating employees' systems.

--Windows 98: The successor to "Memphis" will be out before the year 2000 and will share a common code base with Windows NT. That means no more underlying DOS. It also means that consumers and businesses thinking of upgrading from Windows 95 or 3.1 will have to consider if Win 98--with its increased support for multimedia hardware and its TV-reception capabilities--is worth the hassle when another iteration is due less than two years after its first-quarter 1998 release. Microsoft is urging enterprise customers to bypass Win 98 and go directly to NT, the next version of which is likely to hit the streets in the second half of 1998 with all the features of Win 98 and more.

--By 2000, Microsoft is hoping that NT Server will gain further back-end market share and displace Unix and legacy systems. It has a long way to go. The company also predicted yesterday that in 2000 Windows-based PCs will account for 81 percent of worldwide systems.

--Although they refused to predict specific unit figures, Microsoft officials are looking to the slimmed-down Windows CE to speed the acceptance of non-PC devices such as handhelds, mobile communication units, and even dashboard-mounted navigation systems.

--A week after Microsoft?s financial officers warned of reaching saturation point for its desktop applications, Maritz reversed field and pointed to untapped Office revenue streams coming from home and small businesses. The company has another chance today to explain to a gathering of financial analysts here the future path of its Office cash cow.