Bracing for Windows Server 2003 Rollout

Leery about compatibility issues, some customers may balk at the upgrade due in April.

The application compatibility monster is again rearing its head as Microsoft Corp. prepares to release the Windows Server 2003 family in April.

And although the Redmond, Wash., software developer is working with ISVs, partners, system integrators and component vendors to address as many potential problems as possible before April, some customers, leery about compatibility issues, may initially balk at the upgrade.

"I can see hardware, client and all kinds of other issues cropping up," said Jim Lambright, an IT manager with Roth Manufacturing Corp., in New London, Ohio. "From what I have been told, none of my applications will run on .Net without a major upgrade. Its the proverbial cash double whammy, which leads me to consider not changing anything."

Lambright recently moved all printing operations to a Microsoft network from one based on software from Novell Inc. However, he said, the Windows 2000 servers and Exchange lack the stability he had with Novell. He also can no longer run his enterprise resource planning package, Visual Manufacturing from Lily Software Inc. His other applications and hardware are several years old, and he has been told most will not be compatible with Windows Server 2003.

Lambright is reviewing Linux alternatives for some older Windows 2000 servers and some Microsoft desktops. "Im pretty much taking the attitude that if it isnt broken, dont fix it," he said.

Jack Beckman, an application programming manager for Service Centers Corp., in Southfield, Mich., said he is expecting compatibility problems with older applications, "which, unfortunately, we seem to have more than our share of at the moment."

Beckman said addressing all the issues is impossible. "How will they and their partners test every legacy application? They cant," he said. "I dont expect everything to work. Sometimes, to change one aspect of the operating system, you have to give up some compatibility."

Microsoft, for its part, is trying to limit as many incompatibilities and potential negative experiences as possible for Windows Server 2003, which last week was renamed from Windows .Net Server 2003.

To that end, the company is encouraging ISVs and partners to test their applications and identify differences. Microsoft itself has tested more than 100 third-party applications on early .Net Server code, said Bob OBrien, group product manager for Windows .Net Server.

Microsofts application compatibility lab is working "one-on-one" with some 27 leading ISVs, including Citrix Systems Inc., BMC Software Inc. and Computer Associates International Inc., to determine what needs to be done from performance and design standpoints, OBrien said.

One of the reasons for the yearlong delay of the server software is its security initiative, Trustworthy Computing. The initiative requires all code to be scrutinized for bugs and all engineers to be trained in writing secure code, officials said.

The company has attempted to make the platform more secure by default, changing some policy controls and security settings and thus requiring additional testing to ensure ongoing compatibility, OBrien said.

"Microsoft has cleaned up, removed and updated components and drivers. ... It is now critical for ISVs to check their products against it," OBrien said. "We removed those components we thought were not necessary in a server—things like Universal Plug and Play and some scanner support—so these will not be available."

David Robert, a systems manager for a global consulting and engineering company in Cambridge, Mass., said he would not be surprised if Microsoft removed things that would make users buy even more Microsoft software.

"If you try to run the .Net server beta now, if you use the .Net admin tools in your current NT 2000 domain, it will create objects in Active Directory that are not compatible with your current NT 2000 admin tools," Robert said.

For more on Windows Server 2003, see our special section.