Is XP Worth the Wait?

Windows 2000 Integrators

Just when you thought it was safe to recommend that your clients plunge into Windows 2000, the operating system starts to look like yesterdays news.

Were not saying Linux or another operating system is making Windows 2000 seem dated. Microsoft itself is muting the Windows 2000 fanfare by beating the drums for its upcoming Windows XP.

Already hard-pressed to convince many customers to unplug their venerable—perhaps vulnerable—NT-based networks, solutions providers now must explain why eschewing Windows 2000 and holding off for Windows XPs arrival this fall is not the more prudent course.

Several other factors are complicating the matter. One is the current state of the economy. The other is the fact that, while Windows 2000 has received mostly good reviews by those who install and use it, many small- to midsize business owners are finding no convincing reason to make the migration.

So even though Microsoft happily reported in February that it sold 1 million licenses for Windows 2000 Server software, there are many integrators who arent sharing the excitement.

"I would definitely say my customers are cautious," says Jason Callahan, owner of Wave Solutions, an Orange County, Calif., systems-integration company. "The biggest reason is that the meat isnt there … Im having a hard time saying to them, Here is the clear-cut advantage. You have a stable NT 4.0 network, so why go to a Windows 2000 network?"

Callahan says the rumblings about Windows XP "certainly hasnt helped things," and he says hes "come to accept" that Microsoft is going to push new operating systems almost yearly.

Gartner Research calls XP "Microsofts latest and likely best OS," and observes that "enterprises still deciding on whether [and when] to migrate to Windows 2000 have some difficult choices to make." The analysts note that, come June 30, 2003, Redmond will stop offering support for Windows 98 and NT 4.0.

Gartner says enterprises already upgrading to Windows 2000 should continue, those planning to migrate next year should wait for XP and those running multiple platforms should undertake a "gradual transition" to XP.

In a recent article, Arnold Berman, managing director and technology strategist at the Wit SoundView investment analyst firm, predicted good things for Windows 2000, contending it will power "vastly improved growth" of PC sales during the third and fourth quarters of this year.

IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky also remains bullish about the prospects for Windows 2000. "We published a rather conservative forecast for the adoption of Windows 2000, based on surveys," says Kusnetzky. "But it appears they didnt tell us what they were really going to do. The Windows 2000 product actually saw more [sales] than our forecast, and it demonstrates this product is on its way to being generally accepted."

IDC says its preliminary figures for last year show Windows holding a 41 percent share of the market, climbing from a 38 percent share in 1999.

Indeed, the hype about XP is surfacing just when many business managers are overcoming the caution mentioned by Callahan. Chaf Hungler, a headhunter at RHI Consulting, says hes starting to see more demand for Windows 2000 specialists. "I think when it first came out, people were cautious," says Hungler. "As time went on, people started to move toward Windows 2000, but theyre still pretty careful about how theyre using it."

Hungler notes that hes seeing no decline in demand for NT engineers.

But the benefits of attaining Windows 2000 certification remain debatable. Callahan says none of his staffers has the diploma, but he—and his customers—look more for experience and ingenuity—rather than certification—in engineers and technicians.

Getting Windows 2000 certified does not seem to dramatically increase a techies paycheck, but, "When we talk to people and survey them on Windows 2000, one of their biggest concerns is finding qualified people to help them," says Kusnetzky. "People can take advantage of this concern and become very marketable."

An informal [email protected] Partner survey found that novice Windows 2000 engineers are paid about $50,000 per year and billed out at around $75 per hour. Veteran Microsoft hotshots with Windows 2000 know-how are paid upwards of $100,000 annually, and can be billed out for $175 per hour or more.

Many of those big jobs will involve full-scale hardware upgrades. In fact, most companies who make the move to Windows 2000 do so primarily because their equipment or applications are becoming geriatric, not because they desperately want a new OS, says Rich Figer, VP of sales at Cleveland-based integrator S.B. Stone.

"Most of our customers are small to medium businesses," he says. "Theyre not going to switch until they get new hardware or theyre upgrading their current applications … Their existing hardware is at least a year old now, if not two or three."

One potential challenge to Windows 2000 that has not made a dent in Figers realm is Linux. He says his clients, most being in northern Ohio, dont seem to give a hoot about it.

"I havent had one single customer ask me to sell them Linux for a business application," says Figer, who notes that S.B. Stone is a Caldera/SCO premier reseller. "I havent sold one copy of Caldera yet, and Im in the top five of all SCO resellers in the nation."

So inroads by Linux or NetWare or others outside the Microsoft family are not the source of Windows 2000s potentially stunted growth. Its more a sibling rivalry thing.