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NT earns attention for its absence

One of the software industry's biggest stories in 1998 involved a product noteworthy because of its absence--the next release of Microsoft's Windows NT.

One of the software industry's biggest stories in 1998 involved a product noteworthy because of its absence--the next release of Microsoft's Windows NT operating system.

That release, now called Windows 2000, represents Microsoft's bid for a piece of the lucrative high-end market for operating software that can crunch even the most complex of tasks. The long-delayed upgrade is now comprised of more than 35 million lines of code, a number that may seem insignificant to some but is about three times the size of recent operating system releases from competitors such as Novell and Sun Microsystems.

In some respects, 1998 was a year Microsoft may want to forget. Though the company's stock continued its upward trajectory and several new pieces of software were released for public consumption, federal antitrust scrutiny and missteps in delivery of the Windows 2000 high-end client and server-based operating system weighed heavily on the Redmond, Washington-based firm.

One bright spot for the company's enterprise software efforts in 1998: The delivery of SQL Server 7.0, a major new version of the company's database server software. Microsoft debuted the software in a glitzy Comdex announcement. The company continues to make inroads into the database server market, challenging leader Oracle.

Microsoft finally released a second test version--or beta--of the Windows 2000 upgrade in August, a precursor to a third beta scheduled for the first quarter of 1999. But the state of Windows 2000 has caused a hiccup in the momentum normally associated with Microsoft and its PC hardware counterpart Intel.

The state of Windows 2000, an upgrade that includes complex new features such as a revamped directory and centralized administration tools, caused industry consultants the Gartner Group to warn users to put off implementation of the software.

Meanwhile, competitors have made progress in getting their alternatives accepted. Linux, once thought of as an afterthought for within businesses, benefited from explosive growth this past year.

And the once-teetering network software maker Novell continues a comeback due to a strategy to integrate its own software with products from Microsoft.

Microsoft executives remain mum on final release plans for Windows 2000, revealing only that a third beta version will be formally released next quarter. The company did receive good news recently when Nasdaq decided to implement systems based on Windows NT.

Most believe 1999 will see the final release of desktop and server versions of Windows 2000, though as one industry analyst reminded: "Anyone who's surprised at delays in Microsoft's shipping schedule hasn't been awake for the past few years."