Microsoft's marketing machine went into overdrive last Friday with the launch of Windows 2000. But the real-ity does not measure up to the hype, with some serious concerns about the OS's reliability and Microsoft's ability to cut it in the enterprise space resulting in a wait-and-see approach by many to the technology.
4000 IT industry representatives and customers gathered at Fox Studios to be told that the operating system had officially (and finally) arrived.
With glowing responses from some of its Rapid Deployment Program members and IT partners about Win2K's Web enabling technology, as well as its much-hyped management solution, Active Directory, Microsoft has a few reasons to gloat about the success of what local MD Paul Houghton coined "the most important launch in the history of Microsoft".
According to Chris Leach, general manager of integrator Senteq, dealing with Microsoft is no longer just a case of selling a licence, but of understanding the business options. "What we've noticed from Microsoft is a very welcome change in their approach to the business of our customers," he said.
Peter Geer, IT Buyer for Myer Grace Bros, says Microsoft's move away from the consumer will force retail stores to adopt a niche focus rather than the mass-sales model they are accustomed to. "It hasn't got the retail hooplah of previous Windows launches, because it's primarily aimed at the corporate market," he said.
Peter Cray, Microsoft's marketing director, stressed that home PC users and gamers would not benefit from the Windows 2000 operating system. "Very clearly, this [Windows 2000] is not designed for home use. It is a product for small-to-medium and large enterprises," he said.
Yet Cray said the company's consumer-targeted operating systems released over the next two to five years would run on the Windows 2000 "kernel". Special versions of the software would also be made available for use in "non-PC devices - cars, phones etc". In years to come, it will be the foundation of what we do in the consumer space."
Despite these rave reviews, there is no market consensus on the immediate acceptability of Windows 2000 as amission-critical alternative.
"The general reaction [to Windows 2000] is very positive. In large enter-prises, there is a great deal of interest in terms of forward thinking and planning and there are a few pilots planned. It will be a phased approach," said David Colvin, Asia-Pacific managing director of reseller Software Spectrum.
Dell CEO Michael Dell said, in a keynote address at the Windows 2000 Expo, that "there would be no massive immediate acceleration" to Win2K.
Analyst GartnerGroup's warnings were the most severe, with a recent report predicting that by the end of 2000 only 3 to 6 per cent of Windows NT users will have upgraded to Windows 2000.
However, Microsoft's Cray said the software giant expected no delays in the widespread enterprise uptake of Windows 2000. He said many large corporates had already made "significant commitments" to deploy the product. As an example, he cited ANZ Bank's announcement last week that it would install Windows 2000 on its 29,000 desktop PCs in Australia.
John Haley, marketing manager of reseller cum integrator BCA, is also confident of Windows 2000s immediate popularity.
"Indications are, both here and overseas, that the take up of Windows 2000 over the next 12 months will be very strong. We conducted seminars on Win2K in November and had a great response. A lot of companies who are a generation behind in their operating systems are enquiring about Win2K - it suggest a perception out there that this is the next big thing," explained Haley.
Yet the potential hesitation to take up Windows 2000 cannot be blamed entirely on businesses scepticism about its reliability, or on more specificlocal factors such as the imminent spectre of massive GST implementations. GartnerGroup issued a report claiming that one fourth of corporations going to Win2K will experience significant software compatibility problems as well.
The report states that "application and peripheral compatibility is another area that must be addressed prior to migration". At the Sage reseller Expo last week, Sage managing director John Marshall said businesses must not assume the entire industry now revolves around Win2K.
"Tell your customers when Windows 2000 is released not to rush out and buy it. Sage is still checking the compatibility and we're waiting for the OK. We don't want a repeat of all those problems we had with Windows 95," Marshall said.
Gartner predicts that between 10 and 15 per cent of Windows applications written prior to the general release of Windows 2000 Professional will require patches, upgrades or replacements to operate properly.
Yet, more significantly, Gartner suggested that particular attention should be given to custom-developed applications that do not conform to Microsoft standards.
"There is a general preparedness for this. People have had a long time to get ready. I'm not aware of any software vendor behind the eight ball, "Colvin said.
But John Cromie, managing director of Open Software Associates, believes people are leaving it too late.
"All software companies should have gone through the compatibility lab by now. We were one of the first customers to. The process has been very accessible to Australian software developers. Dragging your heels is only to your detriment - it's not going to hurt Microsoft.
Yet the issues may go deeper than just when the OS will gain credibility, market share and general compatibility. It might not be a question of when the platform will take off but if it will at all.