There's been a lot of speculation recently regarding the benefits of businesses upgrading to Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 2000. According to Microsoft, upgrading your server to Windows 2000 would mean gaining the combined strengths of Windows 98's core functions as well as the stability and robustness of Windows NT.
Not everyone agrees that such a move is prudent at this point. In fact, the effects of such speculation were enough to cause a brief downturn in Microsoft's stock price in mid-February, days before the release of Windows 2000 Server, Advanced Server and Professional (the version for networked Pcs).
Fact is, Microsoft's sheen has been dulling as of late, and many experts are quick to note that the Linux OS, an affordable alternative to Windows and an open-source operating system, could steal the Windows 2000 thunder.
The Other Os
The increase in popularity of Linux as a viable alternative to Windows over the past couple of years has taken Microsoft by surprise. This affordable option-costs vary from free to about $80, depending on distributor-has many big-name backers, including Corel (http://linux.corel.com), which recently released Corel Linux OS Deluxe and WordPerfect 8 for Linux. In addition, Red Hat (www.redhat.com), an early Linux supporter and the first company to support the OS, recently completed a successful IPO based on Red Hat Linux 6.1. According to IDC, Linux captured 17 percent of the total server operating system market in 1998, and, by 2001, IDC predicts shipments of Linux to increase considerably and overtake tried-and-true server OS programs like Novell Netware and Unix. The effect? The viability and necessity of Windows 2000, a $599 OS, is in question.
Cassandra Cavanah is a computer journalist with an entrepreneurial focus who's made a homebased career of writing and consulting on tech-related issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To Upgrade Or Not
Even with the popularity of Linux, Windows remains the OS familiar to most network administrators. And unless you crave the latest gizmos, an unnecessary upgrade to your company's OS is probably the last thing you want to do. The old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies here. If the server OS you're running works for your company and its future growth, there's simply no reason to make a change-at least not today.
The real reason you would need to upgrade is quite simple: if your OS is out-of-date and can't perform the functions necessary to keep your business running smoothly. Companies still running the 16-bit Windows 3.x that never upgraded to the 32-bit Windows 95/98/NT should probably consider migration to Windows 2000 Server and Windows Professional, or even choose the upgrade path to the more affordable Linux OS. Essentially, Windows 3.x users are now two major OS upgrades behind, and both new applications and new hardware will soon be difficult to run on those systems.
Still, the migration to Windows 2000 shouldn't be rushed. Recommendation from analysts at GartnerGroup (www.gartnergroup.com) is to delay until a more stable version of 2000 hits the streets later this year. If tradition holds true, Windows 2000's stability probably won't kick in until Microsoft ships Service Pack 2. The goal is to give Microsoft time to fix the bugs in the early version. GartnerGroup also suggests Windows NT users deploy Windows 2000 as part of ongoing hardware replacement cycles and doesn't recommend migrating current systems to Windows 2000. In fact, this segment-the one Microsoft plans to capture with 2000-is essentially being offered an easier-to-use upgrade for NT. Additionally, whereas NT was only capable of running a small network, Windows 2000's Advanced Server finally promises to deliver an affordable enterprise-level option. Claims are that corporate network costs will be reduced by two-thirds when compared to running Sun's Solaris OS on a Sun Unix server.
Companies running a small network with the Windows 95 or 98 system should probably hold off acting for now, especially if your computing needs are being met and you're running a small network. Of course, Windows 2000 machines can be integrated as time goes on, but if you're running older 16-bit applications or older hardware, you're going to run into significant compatibility problems with Windows 2000. This is a case where a plan for migration should be initiated.
Windows 98 users who've chosen not to make the jump to Windows 2000 will be glad to know that when Windows Millennium Edition (ME) hits the market it promises to improve users' online experience by delivering an OS that takes full advantage of the Internet and multimedia entertainment. Windows ME focuses on four main areas: digital media and entertainment, the online experience, home networking, and PC health.
Windows ME will include Movie Maker, a video-editing application that will enable users to transmit movies over the Net; NetMeeting conferencing software for videoconferencing, chatting and collaboration; and Internet Connection Sharing for enabling multiple computers to share a connection to the Net and offering easier connection of multiple PCs for sharing. Other enhancements include an upgraded WebTV for broader support of TV tuner cards and enhanced support of USB devices.
Windows 2000 provides valuable tools for building Internet, intranet and extranet applications. It enhances security, allowing companies to encrypt data on a network or disk. Users can get access to the same files from any network-connected PC.
According to Microsoft, Windows 2000 is the most reliable OS it has delivered yet. Microsoft has added benefits for road warriors also, improving power management, peripheral support and plug-and-play functionality. Windows 2000 should be easier to manage, too, with wizards in place to perform common tasks like adding printers, etc.
Running Windows 2000 takes some power. To run the single-client Windows 2000 Professional, your system will need a 133MHz or higher Pentium-compatible CPU, 64MB RAM, and a 2GB hard drive with 650MB free.
If you've ever cursed Microsoft for "taking over" the computer universe with its OS, take pleasure in knowing there are other viable options for running your company's network-specifically Linux. Still, the Windows 2000 upgrade is worth considering, especially for NT users. The bottom line: Don't upgrade if you can wait until the upgrade to Windows 2000 hits the streets.