XP Roundtable

eWEEK Corporate Partners discuss Windows XP, IT buying.

A countdown clock on the Microsoft Corp. campus has been ticking off the time remaining until Windows XP is officially released. That clock stops this week, but, based on discussions with members of the eWeek Corporate Partner advisory board, many IT organizations do not share Microsofts anticipation. eWeeks Peter Coffee, Debra Donston and Jason Brooks met recently with Corporate Partners from the commercial, retail, industrial, academic and health care industries. The Corporate Partners provided organizational and IT management perspectives on Windows XP and Microsoft operating system migrations, buying and upgrade strategies in economic downtimes, technology futures, and security frustrations.

Roundtable participants

Kevin Baradet, network systems director, S.C. Johnson Graduate School, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
Gary Bronson, enterprise operations manager, Washington Group International Inc., Boise, Idaho
Frank Calabrese, manager, PC strategy and services, Bose Corp., Framingham, Mass.
Steve Curcuru, resident wizard, Mugar Enterprises Inc., Boston
Larry Shaw, PC coordinator, Nordstrom Inc., Boston
Nelson Ramos, vice president/regional CIO, Memorial Hospitals Association, Modesto, Calif.

eWeekPeter Coffee, technology editor
Debra Donston, executive editor
Jason Brooks, technical analyst

eWeek: Does the release of Windows XP have any impact on any of you as far as your plans for buying new machines are concerned? Or on whether youll be buying new machines over the next few months with XP by default, or going out of your way to continue buying Windows 2000?

Calabrese: Our images currently consist of Windows 2000, Office 2000 and a number of utilities as our core build. We also have some remnants of NT machines out there and some Windows 9x machines. We deploy Windows 2000 unless there is a business or software application that does not run well under Windows 2000.

We intend to, somewhere in the future, deploy a tested configuration of the Windows XP operating system with Office XP. That will be the only way that we deploy Office XP, or, for that matter, Windows XP.

eWeek: Is it likely youll be doing that this calendar year?

Calabrese: Were looking probably six to eight months out. And were predicating this on our ability to get rid of the remaining 42 percent of the machines that are not currently Windows 2000. Im not looking to support more than two Microsoft operating systems at any time.

eWeek: So you see Windows 2000 and XP as being different operating systems?

Calabrese: Yes, absolutely. I dont have any real desire to go back and retrofit my Windows 2000 machines to XP unless I really have to.

eWeek: Is anyone planning a substantially more rapid deployment of XP on desktop or portable systems?

Shaw: We are currently rolling out Windows 2000. We have Windows 2000 in all of our key infrastructure servers and about half of our desktops with Office 2000. At this point, we are evaluating Windows XP and Office XP but have no plans to implement them this year.

eWeek: Does Windows XP solve a problem that was high on anyones list of things you needed to solve? Things you havent been able to get from either Windows 2000 or 9x?

Curcuru: In my opinion, trying to go to XP is going to create more problems than it solves at this juncture. Ive got a mixture of [Windows] 98 SE and 2000, and its working quite reliably. I just dont want to go to the hassle or trouble at this point to put in an untested system that I dont see adding much benefit.

eWeek: Anyone take the opposite point of view on that?

Ramos: Were looking at XP on laptops, and we will probably begin testing those in a couple months. Generally, weve found that each new operating system improves the manageability of the security of laptop devices. Thats where were going to do the initial testing.

As far as the desktop devices, our major focus right now is on getting rid of the 9x machines and converting them to Windows 2000. Since we only want to touch the devices once, in those cases were doing an upgrade to Office XP.

eWeek: Nelson just talked about the notion that each release of Windows is at least incrementally more secure, and weve recently gone through yet another costly campaign of trying to clean up after a worm that managed to exploit multiple vulnerabilities through multiple pathways in the Microsoft platform. Is anyone going through a crisis of confidence in the Microsoft platform that makes them want to look at doing something drastic?

Curcuru: I maintain, as Ive maintained for a number of years, that Microsoft does not do an adequate job with security.

eWeek: Are they getting there, or are they still in denial that their core technology was inadequately designed from that point of view?

Curcuru: What evidence do you have that theyve changed at all? What real-world evidence is there that they have seriously, at the core of their operating system, dedicated the meaningful resources to make a significant change? I think they are in denial still.

Baradet: Our Webmasters have been having a good time saying, "I told you so." They prefer [non-Microsoft] platforms, but we, like a lot of other people, are kind of locked into IIS [Internet Information Services] because of the third-party systems we depend on for registrar, admissions and so on; they are built on IIS.

We just have to expend the energy to make sure that, when a patch comes out, we get it on there as soon as possible. We can no longer wait until the next scheduled downtime. We really have to get it that same day, and usually try and hit it by the close of the business day.

eWeek: Are you saying that checking for, downloading and installing IIS patches is, as far as youre concerned, an everyday task?

Baradet: Yes. Were starting to check for patches every day.

eWeek: Do the rest of you share Kevins perception that you have to have identification and response pretty much within one day now?

Bronson: I dont have an IIS server installed anywhere in my operation.

eWeek: By choice?

Bronson: Yes, its pretty much a Netscape environment on that side. This whole change management process ... I think when we talk about back-end infrastructure, those are the kind of things [constantly having to apply patches] that will kill you. I mean, if you literally have to run through that many changes in your back-end infrastructure, you just end up bypassing testing steps, bypassing things because you dont have time to do them. And any time you start bypassing that process, youre just setting yourself up.

eWeek: Gary, how would you characterize your back-end architecture at this time?

Bronson: I have Sun [Microsystems Inc.s] Solaris on my Oracle Financials. Thats my jewels right there. I do have NT servers. I have some Novell [Inc.] servers, all doing file/print.

eWeek: And youve made the choice to do Oracle and Solaris for reasons primarily of reliability? Or are there other factors that have influenced that choice?

Bronson: That decision was made about three and a half years ago, before I came here. At that time, Microsoft wasnt even perceived as an option.

eWeek: A couple of you have mentioned in the same breath as Windows XP the other big upgrade that goes with that in many environments: Office XP. Does anyone want the things that Microsoft is saying will make Office XP a major productivity boost?

Curcuru: Its not enough of a plus for me to go through the effort of putting it out there. I think itll be at least six months.