Windows 2000, which debuted today amid fanfare, will be embraced first on laptops and notebook computers, not on the upscale server and workstation systems for which it was originally targeted, analysts and computer makers said.
It's a technology that fills a hole in notebook customers' needs; the new OS offers an immediate improvement over previous versions of Windows, notebook makers said. But demand for a secure, reliable operating system that exploits the best features of corporate notebooks is the main reason success with notebooks could take off.
The growing population of laptop owners has had to compromise with either Windows 95 or 98, considered to be less stable and secure, or Windows NT, which doesn't fully support important features such as power management, easily detachable peripherals or new technology such as USB (universal serial bus).
"We're actually very bullish about Windows 2000 on portables," said Chuck Dourlet, vice president of marketing for Compaq Computer's portable PC division. "The benefits are so much greater that we're actually forecasting that the portable adoption may drive the transition to Windows 2000 in a lot of customer environments, where they roll it out on portables first and then desktops."
A corporate notebook, compared with a laptop for the home user, generally features a heartier, easy-to-swap configuration of software and hardware.
One clue that Microsoft sees notebook adoption as key to the operating system's sucess: At today's Windows 2000 launch in San Francisco, a 40-foot-wide notebook served as the backdrop to chairman Bill Gates' keynote address.
If Windows 2000 does take off on notebooks, it would be one bright spot in an otherwise dreary forecast on adoption rates for the new OS.
Gartner Group predicted that about 50 percent of large companies moving to Windows 2000 will experience some upgrade trouble--from existing applications, non-Windows operability or with network infrastructure--through 2001. Gartner predicts that one in four companies will experience similar problems through 2003. Other reports from Meta Group and International Data Corp. indicate hidden costs or cautious adoption, particularly on servers.
"Mobile users on compatible hardware with compatible applications will see some of the most immediate benefits of Windows 2000 (Professional version)," said Gartner Group analyst Michael Gartenberg.
As with Compaq, Dell Computer expects many businesses buying portables to favor Windows 2000.
"We think some of the mobile benefits in the operating systems will definitely initially drive people to adopt Windows 2000 on notebooks," said Gretchen Cole, Dell's marketing manager for Latitude notebooks.
The biggest change on the portable front may be a major conversion of Windows 95 and 98 to Windows 2000, according to PC makers.
Compaq, for example, ships Windows NT on only about 15 percent of the commercial portables it sells today. But by midyear, the Houston-based PC maker plans to offer Windows 2000 on every commercial notebook. Compaq will pre-load portables with Windows 2000 and Windows NT, and customers will be able to choose one the first time they start up the notebook.
The bulk of Compaq customers will be picking Windows 2000 over Windows 95 or 98, Dourlet said.
Power management has been one of Windows NT's biggest stumbling blocks, with the operating system consuming much more battery power than Windows 95 or 98 on notebook systems. Windows NT is also poorly suited to changing network connections, such as moving from a main office to a branch office or the home.
But for many companies, weak security is perhaps the biggest failing of Windows 95 and 98, said Ralph Martino, vice president of marketing for IBM's Personal Systems Group.
Craig Beilinson, Microsoft's Windows 2000 lead product manager, said the new operating system fixes the problems.
"An important feature for portable users is Windows 2000's new encrypted-file feature," Beilinson said. "If I go to the airport and someone takes off with my laptop...I know that my data is completely safe."
IBM isn't as optimistic as Compaq about adoption rates, but the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer company expects a fairly rapid changeover to Windows 2000. Worldwide, about 20 percent of IBM's commercial ThinkPad customers use Windows NT, with most users in Europe. IBM expects the fastest conversion to Windows 2000 in the United States, followed by Europe and Japan.