Microsoft's enterprise service provider partners feel so confident about the stability of Windows XP, they are prepared to promote it from day one.
Darren Ryman, practice director for .Net services at Accenture/Microsoft joint venture Avanade, has seen a variety of Microsoft product releases come and go. In the past, a cautious service provider has advised their customers that to implement the dot-naught release of any software product is a risk. The general feeling is that customers should wait until the bugs are ironed out, until they can be sure the code is mature, then deploy.
But upon being engaged in the process of overseeing the development, testing and revision of Windows XP, Ryman says he is prepared to go out on a limb and tell customers the software is ready for deployment from the start.
Ryman says many of his customers are also confident that XP will be a stable product from the outset, and several have already indicated they are not going to wait for updated versions.
"When Microsoft releases a new product, there is always a lot of hype in the marketplace," he says. "But that doesn't necessarily translate into sales straight away. Ever since Windows 2000, people are acknowledging that the product is ready and working from dot-zero."
The main reason for this shift in perception, Ryman says, is the knowledge that some of Microsoft's largest partners and customers have extensively road-tested the software under the vendor's Joint Development and Rapid Deployment Programs.
The Joint Development Program involves Microsoft handpicking 40 to 50 of its largest customers to test and deploy the product before it officially goes to market. "These organisations give some real-world feedback on the product and ensure it is robust," Ryman says. "Instead of Microsoft signing off on the code to say it's ready, it is customers themselves."
The Rapid Deployment Program involves a non-committal testing of the beta software by Microsoft customers and partners to provide further feedback before release. Avanade has been working with a number of customers on the RDP for Windows XP.
"We are seeing two or three fairly sizeable customers every week approaching us about XP," says Ryman. These customers come from a diverse range of industries such as finance, entertainment, and resources and utilities.
"What we find is that a lot of companies have been looking at Windows 2000 seriously, but held off knowing Windows XP was on the horizon," says Avanade marketing manager Anthony Withers.
All of Avanade's staff are now trained in Windows XP, and globally the Avanade business has been running XP for several months among its 1200 staff.
In Ryman's opinion, the market for enterprise Windows XP deployments will be hard-fought among channel partners. Those skilled in the technology will have a great advantage through proving their talents in early deployments.
"The key way to differentiate yourself as a service provider is getting your design right," he says. "The customer's experience of XP will be positive or negative, depending on whether you get the design right."