Tech Industry

Windows 2000 launch festivities begin

The unveiling of Microsoft's most ambitious software product yet gets underway as dignitaries arrive in San Francisco for a three-day confab.

SAN FRANCISCO--The unveiling of Microsoft's most ambitious software product yet begins today as dignitaries arrive here for the three-day launch of Windows 2000.

Today's festivities include addresses by two of Microsoft's biggest business partners: Dell Computer chief executive Michael Dell opens the show, and Compaq Computer CEO Michael Capellas winds things down. The most anticipated event, however, is Thursday's official debut of the business-use operating system, to be introduced by Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect.

The Bay Area confab, which also features numerous workshops, tops a list of more than 100 launch events worldwide. Enthusiasts may not line up outside computer stores to make midnight purchases, as happened with Windows 95's debut, but Microsoft is clear in saying that Windows 2000 is at least as important to the Redmond, Wash.-based company.

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.

In the making since 1996, Windows 2000 is a great deal Windows 2000: The next generation more sophisticated than its predecessor, Windows NT 4. 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.

In addition, Microsoft 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.

But Windows 2000 is a strong product, most analysts agree. Microsoft's leading market share, enduring brand name and deep pockets give the company a leg up on many competitors, and many researchers say Windows 2000 genuinely is more crashproof than its predecessor.