Hoping to prove its high-end mettle, Microsoft is working with OEMs to create a rigorous set of certification guidelines for a new enterprise server offering, the Datacenter Server.
The Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, announced last week amid Microsoft's repositioning of its Windows operating systems, will be optimised for large data warehouses and other heavy-duty projects. It will support as many as 16 processors, 64GB of physical memory, and clustered configurations, according to Microsoft officials.
The consequence of Microsoft's high-end foray is that hardware qualification becomes a necessity.
"We are eager to have wide customer choice," said Ed Muth, Microsoft group product manager for enterprise marketing. "However, as the requirements go up, the number of vendors and the number of systems goes down, because it is not cost effective for every system to try to meet more rigorous standards."
Microsoft's goal of building Windows NT - renamed Windows 2000 Server two weeks ago - so it runs on as many configurations as possible has contributed, in part, to the perception that it is a low-end operating system, one analyst said.
"Microsoft bears some blame because Windows NT is not as reliable as some people would like, but part of the problem is that it runs such a wide range of configurations," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies in the US.
"That's opposed to Unix systems that work on a fairly confined subset of systems so there is good control over how they are configured."
"Microsoft wants to restrict the number of systems that run the Datacenter version to hardware configurations that have passed pretty rigorous compatibility tests," Davis said. "You might find that there are only a dozen systems qualified to run Datacenter."
As part of the new marketing plan announced two weeks ago, the NT line adopted Windows 2000 names and will be attached to a "built-on Windows NT technology" tag line.
In addition to emphasising the Windows brand and bringing the OS line in step with other Microsoft date-related names, such as Office 2000, the move will help Microsoft prepare for the future, when the consumer- oriented Windows 9x line is phased out in favour of an OS based on the NT kernel.
Windows 2000, now in Beta 2 testing, should ship sometime in 1999, according to Microsoft officials, and Beta 3 will be released early in 1999.
Windows 2000 Datacenter Server will ship 60 to 90 days after the other versions, according to Brad Chase, vice president of Windows marketing at Microsoft.