Windows Lock-In Worries

Microsoft's plans to improve Windows Server System interoperability are being greeted coolly.

Microsoft Corp.s plans for a common set of services that promise its server platform products will work better together are being met with skepticism.

The Redmond, Wash., company next year will begin rolling out products for the Windows Server System family based on Microsofts Common Engineering Roadmap, officials said.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about Microsofts latest Windows Server timetable.

The move could help reduce complexity and provide customers with a standard set of criteria for all Windows Server System products, officials said, but the concept is already being panned.

"This is yet another Microsoft move to make its latest and greatest products work best together at the expense of older versions and to facilitate greater lock-in for us," said an IT manager who requested anonymity.

Jack Beckman, an application programming manager in Southfield, Mich., echoed the sentiment. Beckman said that although its easier, faster and less expensive to use products from a single vendor that are designed to work together, such a scenario can lock the customer in to that vendors products.

Microsoft officials dont see it that way. "We arent forcing anyone to do anything," said Andy Lees, corporate vice president for server and tools marketing. "It is also true that we can add more value by using the products in combination, and it is true that if you are using the latest version of a combination of products, that will be even more true."

On the issue of lock-in, Lees said, "I actually think that our track record of interoperability is very strong. If you look at what weve been doing with Web services, standards bodies and security standards, were not forcing the customer to do anything. I think there is a customer advantage through integration and innovation, and we are absolutely going to deliver that."

Microsoft executives are also pondering a new Windows Server product called Windows Server HPC Edition, which will address the growing demand for high-performance computing software solutions.

Lees acknowledged that the company is committed to HPC and to making sure there is "no place where Windows does not add value to our customers," he said. "But while we are looking at all our options in this regard, no final decision has been made about a separate HPC version of Windows Server."

Brian Riley, senior programmer and analyst at a large U.S. health care services company, has no interest in an HPC offering from Microsoft. "Microsoft would like to gain some ground back from Linux [and Unix] in that department," Riley said. "But given Microsofts track record with security, do you really want the guy with the Excel spreadsheet being able to take over the operating system on your Cray [supercomputer]? I didnt think so."

Microsoft has talked about HPC being one of the types of "server workloads" it will support with Windows Server in the future, and, over the past few years, the company has invested in HPC clusters through partnerships with the Cornell Theory Center, in Ithaca, N.Y., and hardware makers to aid HPC application, development and deployment.

In other server news, Microsoft last week extended product life-cycle support from seven to 10 years, but Windows NT 4.0 and Exchange Server 5.5 are not covered by the move. "We have been very open, friendly and supportive with our support for NT 4 customers," Lees said.

"We have already extended support several times for our customers to help them go through their transition. What we are also hearing from a lot of customers is that they are in the middle of the migration right now and well on their way to doing that," he said, adding that the threats from Novell Inc. and Red Hat Inc. to target the NT 4 user base with their products had not factored into the decision.

"Its pretty hard to justify upgrading the operating system on every desktop and server every three or four years," said Beckman. "We got rid of nearly all of our NT 4 servers some time ago. Microsoft has been making it clear for some time that they do not want to support NT 4."

Riley agreed, saying that NT 4.0 was greatly surpassed by Windows 2000. "Just the improvements they made in recovering a nonbootable operating system was worth the upgrade," he said. "Our company pretty much has upgraded all NT 4.0 servers to Windows Server 2003. If the plan did not cover either of those two [Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003], you would hear some howling from businesses."

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