SAN MATEO (02/04/2000) - Brain Jaffe has read all the articles and reviews, he's heard years' worth of hype and sales pitches from Microsoft Corp., he's watched the betas come and go, and he's heard all the arguments, pro and con.
Now he just wants to get down to the business of Windows 2000.
"We're excited, we're optimistic, we're hopeful," says Jaffe, a New York-based IT director at a national company. "Hopefully, the rewards are going to be there. The rewards had better be there."
There is fertile ground for Windows 2000 at enterprises everywhere. According to InfoWorld's 1999 State of the Enterprise Survey, 99.4 percent of businesses use Windows as their primary desktop platform; 80.1 percent say Windows is their primary platform for Web servers; and 81.4 percent use the ubiquitous operating system as their primary application server platform.
When Microsoft executives said in 1997 that they were "betting the company" on Windows 2000 -- due for a formal launch next week, and already up and running in many enterprises -- they weren't exaggerating.
Nevertheless, IT managers aren't concerned with Microsoft's financial fortunes as much as they are with Active Directory challenges, weighing alternatives such as Linux, and ensuring security and stability for new dot-com ventures.
Just more than half of the IT managers participating in the InfoWorld survey said they plan to implement Windows 2000 this year.
Active Directory dilemma
Windows 2000's fortune will likely be made or lost on the server side. With Active Directory, Microsoft finally is offering a complete directory solution.
Microsoft is just catching up to old hands at directories, most notably Novell, but the pervasiveness of Windows almost ensures that a Windows-based directory will enjoy a large measure of success.
"Most people, including those strongly in the Active Directory camp, seem to think that it's a first-generation directory service and it's not quite there, it's not quite as competitive across the board as far as NDS is from Novell," says Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies, in Kirkland, Wash.
"The gap certainly will close dramatically with Active Directory," Davis adds.
"NT's directory services have been fairly widely deployed, even given its reputation as a dog, and Novell hasn't taken over the world. You have to assume Active Directory is going to do pretty well."
Gaining control of networked servers and PCs with Active Directory will come at a price -- familiarization with a brand-new technology. Therefore, many IT shops proceed slowly and cautiously.
"There hasn't been a [Windows] directory before, there's just been trees and network diagrams and information about who is on your network," says Dana Gardner, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group in Boston. "This conversion will require people to really do some work."
"It's going to be starting from the ground up in the domain infrastructure," Jaffe says.
A mini-industry has already sprung up to meet this challenge, with companies such as Entevo and FastLane offering Active Directory migration help. Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, and Hewlett-Packard -- which, in addition to being solid Microsoft partners, have rolled out Windows 2000 internally -- also have come out with migration services for Active Directory as well as other aspects of Windows 2000.
"The sooner you get to a directory structure, and the more centralized you make repositories and storage in your organization, the much better off you're going to be doing business-to-business and business-to-customer [transactions] later on down the path," Gardner says.
Open-source Linux is also steadily gaining acceptance on the server end of the enterprise. Its price tag -- free -- is appealing, as is its reliability and the burgeoning developer community surrounding it. Microsoft is worried about Linux, but for now Windows still rules the roost.
"Linux has been somewhat suspect in performance compared to NT 4.0, and if Windows 2000 raises the bar, it raises the bar above where Linux is competing," Davis says. "On the other hand, there's no stopping Linux being the key alternative to Windows 2000 for as far as we can see."
E-commerce will be the focus of a large portion of Microsoft's marketing blitz around Windows 2000, which offers Internet Information Server (IIS) 5.0, Internet Explorer 5.0, and other Web technologies.
"Internet services are ingrained in Windows 2000 from the ground up: The integrated browser and Web server, XML, Active Server Page support, transaction support -- from soup to nuts, client and server," says Craig Beilinson, lead product manager for Windows 2000.
However, what will be key to dot-coms scrutinizing Windows 2000 are security features such as Kerberos and support for up-to-date standards, as well as scalability additions such as eight-way SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) support and network load balancing.
David Banker, executive IT director at Supermarkets.com, an online provider of grocery coupons that customers redeem at stores, based in Greenwich, Conn., oversaw a smooth transition to Windows 2000 late last year. Supermarkets.com, which runs Windows 2000 on 26 Web servers and 12 database servers, participated in Microsoft's JDP (Joint Developer Program).
Supermarkets.com began converting to an all-Windows 2000 environment in mid-November, finishing up in December. Banker says the server upgrade hassles were minimal, and Web performance reliability has increased dramatically.
"We're running SQL Server 7.0 and have seen a fairly dramatic improvement in query time," Banker says. "On the Web servers, running IIS 5.0 and Windows 2000, we were seeing increases on the order of 70 percent throughput from the FastTrack servers we were running from Netscape."
Critical application support
Likewise, adoption in the ASP (application service provider) market will weigh in heavily to Windows 2000's overall market share.
"Telcos and network service providers, ASPs and ISPs, have all been growing as important players in the distribution of software functionality," Davis says.
"With Windows 2000, Microsoft clearly thinks it has a much better horse to ride into battle to get these folks as customers. They will emphasize the new ASP channel as one they are especially targeting in that regard. They need a platform that actually runs 24 hours a day, and on bigger hardware configurations."
As the Feb. 17 launch date nears, only seven vendors worldwide have Windows 2000 certification, meaning they are equipped to exploit the system's new features. They are Caere's OmniPage Pro 1.0, Damgaard's Axapta, Executive Software's DisKeeper Workstation, Gemplus's GemSafe, Navision Financials, Scansoft's TextBridge Millennium Pro, and WRQ's Reflection for HP.
But if the number of Windows 2000-specific applications is small -- a situation Davis blames on Microsoft's foot-dragging with application specifications, and Microsoft's Beilinson attributes to a certification process "that really raises the bar" -- there are still close to 8,000 applications that are compatible with Windows 2000.
"Even if an application isn't tuned and tweaked to take advantage of Windows 2000, it should in theory run faster on Windows 2000 and be more reliable on a more reliable platform," Davis says. "For a lot of companies, that'll be enough to swap out NT and go to Windows 2000."
That's good news for the IT manager of a large, national manufacturer and retailer in Baltimore.
"Right now all the [application] vendors say 'you could share a box with us and something else,' but when a problem arises they blame the other guy," says the manager, who requested anonymity. "We'd like Windows 2000 to be a platform that lets multiple applications live together on the same server."
However, "there are no apps now that are pushing me to Windows 2000," the manager added.
With the desktop component, Windows 2000 Professional, Microsoft is promising what Windows users have long craved -- an operating system that is stable, reliable, and secure. Most early reports say that goal has been achieved, but users won't know for sure until they've banged on the final product for a few months.
Microsoft hopes its System Preparation Tool will help with rollouts. The tool prepares users' images for cloning across multiple systems, through utilities such as Symantec's Norton Ghost or PowerQuest DriveImage.
"All users upgrading to Windows 2000 by necessity need to wipe and reload. It's an automated process, where we capture user data and the state of machine," says John Holmes, manager of client technology programs at Compaq, which -- with 13 domains with 20,000 user accounts -- boasts the largest Windows 2000 deployment to date, other than Microsoft's.
So although Microsoft wants to storm the enterprise with Windows 2000, the software giant knows that IT managers will carefully weigh implementation from all angles.
"We know customers can't just flip a switch and move to a new OS," Beilinson says. "We want to make sure they simply deploy the pieces they're ready for, when they're ready for them."
For most, however, Windows 2000 isn't a question of whether to upgrade, but when.
Associate News Editor Bob Trott (email@example.com) covers Microsoft and other desktop and server platforms for the InfoWorld news team.
ServiceWare offers Win2000 Web support
* ServiceWare has set up a Windows 2000 knowledge portal to help you get fast answers to Windows 2000 upgrade and implementation questions. The company is offering a free 15-day trial period for the service. The portal can be found at www.rightanswers.com.
BugReport Special: Windows 2000
According to Microsoft, you should not have a fully qualified DNS computer name with more than 64 characters in Windows 2000. If you do, PKI (public key infrastructure) services will fail, which will cause failures in Enterprise Certificate Authority, domain controller and computer automatic enrollment, and IPSec enrollment.
An upgrade "feature" that you should be aware of: During an upgrade to Windows 2000, Microsoft officials say that the default security settings you would get if you did a clean install will be applied automatically. This means that if you had tighter security prior to the upgrade, those settings are gone. If you want them back, Microsoft says you need to reapply any custom security settings.
You should delay using EFS (Encrypting File System) on a computer that you have upgraded from Windows 95/98 to Windows 2000 until you are sure that the computer has actually joined the new Windows 2000 domain. If you don't, you may have problems with your EFS recovery and migrating private cryptographic keys.
Microsoft officials say that if you want to use Microsoft Office 95 on a Windows 2000 computer, you need to have the Office 95 Year 2000 update installed, which is at officeupdate.microsoft.com/downloaddetails/o95y2k.htm.
Make sure that you have installed the latest patches for all the Office applications.
If you have Microsoft Outlook 2000 installed on your Windows 95/98 computer, and then you upgrade to Windows 2000, you will have to reinstall Outlook 2000 after the upgrade. Microsoft officials say you will be warned during the upgrade process. If Outlook 2000 is in your Startup folder, it will happen automatically. They also say that the Outlook reinstallation is very slow, and the progress bar will reset a number of times. Do not cancel the installation, even if it appears the computer is locked up.
Microsoft officials say that if you are running Windows 2000 on a multi-homed computer, and if you have two or more interfaces with an APIPA (Automatic Private Internet Protocol Addressing) address, you may end up with inconsistent routing behavior for your computer. Microsoft will have more information in its online Knowledge Base.
Special Windows 2000 Bug Report by Bugnet's Bruce Brown and Bruce Kratofil, who are co-authors, with InfoWorld's Brian Livingston, of Windows 2000 Secrets, published by IDG Books.