The software giant unveiled a slew of new tools and information resources to help customers who use Microsoft software to plan and execute Year 2000 conversion programs.
As reported earlier, the new Y2K package marks a new phase in Microsoft's Year 2000 initiative, which had earlier focused on the testing of its products, and was criticized by customers and analysts for its delay in coming.
Microsoft said the timing of the release and what has been provided in the new Y2K initiative follows the interests of its customers.
"Clearly they were asking for tools," said Don Jones, Y2K product manager. But, "up until now our customers did a lot of discussion and awareness about Y2K. Now it's action time, to take care of the problem."
Microsoft also says it has no intent on muscling in on consulting companies' business with its new Year 2000 offerings.
Analysts say Microsoft doesn't want to take the legal risk of providing a potentially lucrative full fleet of services to its customers. The company would rather leave that to businesses such as Keane and EDS.
Keane, for example, said $101 million or 35 percent of its revenue in the third quarter came from Year 2000 business, while EDS signed $50 million in Year 2000 contracts in the third quarter
"Year 2000 is way too short term [for Microsoft] and there is too much legal liability affiliated with it," said Kazim Isfahani, analyst at Giga Information Group. "Microsoft's got deep pockets and it's too easy to sue."
Microsoft has said that they want the company's Y2K offerings to compliment, rather than replace, a company's existing Year 2000 strategy or partnership with a services firm.
"I would say that no company currently involved with services at the desktop level will be put out of business by this offer," said Tom Oleson, an analyst at International Data Corporation in Framingham, Massachusetts. "I think this is supplemental and it's going to help people."
The new tools include software that advises users of the compliance status of Microsoft's core products, a quarterly Y2K resource CD with tools and information, software to analyze and update Excel spreadsheets, and enhanced Systems Management Server features. System Management Server is a component of the company's BackOffice server software bundle.
The Microsoft Y2K Product Analyzer scans a user's hard drive to create an inventory of Microsoft products, compares this inventory to the Microsoft Year 2000 compliance product guides, identifies products for which the user should download a free software update or patch, and provides URLs to get those updates. The tool is free and will be available on Microsoft's Y2K Web site and on a free resources CD.
Customers can also subscribe to a new quarterly CD-ROM, called the Y2K Resource CD, free of charge. The first version, which is available now, includes products guides, white papers, and Year 2000 information. In the second quarter the CD will also include assessment tools and information on how customers can address end-to-end Y2K compliance challenges, including hardware, the operating system, applications, documents, custom code, and data interfaces.
The company also released three date migration add-in tools for Microsoft Excel 97 for Windows. These help prepare dates in Excel workbooks for transitioning from earlier versions of Excel or for auditing workbooks for the year 2000.
The Excel plug-ins consist of the Date Fix Wizard, which allows users to change the date format of two-digit-year dates quickly, or modify serial dates so they fall within a specified dates range; the Date Migration Wizard, which finds and manipulates specific kinds of dates that are in workbooks created in earlier versions of Excel; and the Date Watch Wizard, which monitors work for year-ambiguous dates and formats.
Microsoft has also added new features in the forthcoming release of Systems Management Server, due out this year. This includes a compliance database engine that incorporates the technology of the Microsoft Y2K Product Analyzer, extending it to work in an enterprise setting, the company said. IT managers will also be able to customize the database with compliance data from other software vendors, inventory hardware, and distribute software updates through the network.
New Y2K information resources and initiatives were also announced, like email bulletins for subscribed customers wanting up-to-date information every two weeks on products, programs, and the Year 2000 glitch.
The company is also offering technical breakout sessions that focus on ways businesses of all sizes can execute Year 2000 programs as part of its quarterly TechNet briefings for IT professionals. In addition, the sessions provide information on tools, services, and products, such as Microsoft Systems Management Server, as components of Y2K remediation.
The company also plans to provide a one-day workshop to assist enterprise customers in preparing a Year 2000 plan.
The company has also revamped its Y2K Web site by adding more query features and a new download database for customers to identify and obtain the resources they want for their Year 2000 compliance programs.
In April, the software giant first launched the much-anticipated, revamped Web site and strategy dedicated to the Y2K problem, highlighting date bugs in some of its most popular products, such as Windows 95, Office 95, and Office 97.