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Gates unveils Windows 2000 amid fanfare

Microsoft officially announces its most ambitious software product as the company attempts to make up ground in the high-end computing world.

SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft today unveiled its most ambitious software product in an attempt to make up ground in the high-end computing world.

A keynote address here by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates caps a list of more than 100 launch events worldwide for Windows 2000, the software giant's much-hyped new operating system for businesses.

"I think it's fair to say it was the most ambitious software project ever done," Gates said. The project required 5,000 people, $2 billion and 750,000 beta testers, he added.

The boisterous event was marked by rock music and a guest appearance by actor Patrick Stewart, musician Carlos Santana and other dignitaries.

During his keynote speech, Microsoft's co-founder promised that the version of Windows 2000 for servers will finally give his company a place in the coveted market for high-end, powerful computers. He acknowledged the current market dominance of Unix and mainframe systems but predicted that Microsoft will make further inroads.

"We feel this situation has completely changed," Gates said. Windows 2000 enables "a new approach that not only matches, but goes beyond what you could ever do with a single, expensive box."

Aimed at Intel-based business systems, Windows 2000 initially will be available in three versions: Professional, for laptops and desktops; Server, for low-end servers; and Advanced Server, for more powerful machines with as many as eight processors. The Datacenter edition, which supports as many as 32 processors, is scheduled to arrive in 120 days. (Microsoft suggests that home users stick with Windows 98 and its successor, called Windows Millennium Edition.)

Windows 2000 adds numerous capabilities, including tools to make it easier for administrators to manage computers from afar and improvements in how several servers can divvy up a heavy workload. It also includes features, such as USB (universal serial bus) support, that are likely to appeal to those running the software on desktop and laptop systems.

Gates also pointed to two upcoming versions of the operating system: Windows 2000/64 for computers built on Intel's upcoming Itanium chips and Embedded Windows 2000 for computing devices where most of the inner workings of the computer are hidden from the user.

In perhaps the most sprawling demo ever, Microsoft stacked up an array of 500 desktop computers used to pepper a collection of servers with requests to send out Web pages at a rate of 1.6 billion per day.

Although Microsoft argues that "clusters" of less-powerful computers can do as good a job, it also sees the benefits of large, expensive systems. To meet that demand, Windows 2000 can run on eight-processor servers today and will be able to run on 32-processor systems by this summer, the company has said.

In addition, an upcoming product, Application Center 2000, will allow administrators to add servers to a company network with comparative ease to adjust for changes such as increasing Web traffic.

Gates also boasted of the Windows 2000: The next generation increased reliability of Windows 2000 on the desktop. He cited a recent study that showed that a Windows 95 system needed to be rebooted every two days and a Windows NT system every five days, while the new Windows 2000 kept running without crashing after 90 days.

Microsoft's employees are all signed on to use the new OS, Gates said. In a transition that began nine months ago, Microsoft has switched all 70,000 of its in-house desktop computers to Windows 2000.

In the making since 1996, Windows 2000 is a great deal more sophisticated than its predecessor, Windows NT 4. But the transition won't be smooth for about a quarter of those who make the change, according to consulting firm Gartner Group, and many will take their time.

Microsoft also faces the twin challenges of Linux and the Internet, both unforeseen just a few years ago. The first has established itself as a cheaper alternative and has been embraced by almost as many computer companies as Windows. The second has boosted the market for powerful servers--and equally powerful operating systems--to run Web sites.

In the years when Windows 2000 has been under development, the Internet has arrived, Gates said. Windows 2000 will be useful for running Web sites and business software.