Comdex '99: Will you take Windows 2000 home?

Microsoft is planning for the scenario where its business OS becomes a home, small biz platform

After spending more than a year carefully positioning Windows 2000 as a business operating system, Microsoft is preparing for possible and until-now-unanticipated consumer uptick for the client version.

At a press conference on Monday outlining Microsoft's Windows 2000 reliability initiatives, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer told press and analysts that Windows 2000 isn't expected to merit the huge consumer interest Windows 95 did. But it is, nonetheless, preparing for possible small-business and home demand, he said.

Microsoft has begun investigating how to deliver drivers and other "downloadable code modules" that would make Windows 2000 better able to run consumer applications and games, Ballmer said. It is likely to make these available via the Windows 2000 update site, according to Microsoft officials.

"You will be able to download pieces of code that will help compatibility [of Windows 2000 Professional] if any issues are found," said Ballmer. These "downloadable code modules will let you run some of the stranger applications and games".

Microsoft's not anticipating consumers will queue up at midnight on February 17 next year to buy their copies of Windows 2000, officials acknowledged. "You won't see lines around the block. This will be a business launch," said Deborah Willingham, Microsoft vice president of marketing for its business and enterprise division. "The event will revolve around the deployment focus at that time."

In fact, Microsoft has been working actively to channel consumers away from Windows 2000 and enterprise customers towards its next-generation OS. It did so in order to alleviate customer confusion about which platform they should deploy: Windows 9X and its follow-ons or Windows NT/2000 and its follow-ons.

Currently, the 2,000 Windows 2000-ready applications and 81 Windows 2000-ready systems are all aimed squarely at business users.

Most of the reliability initiatives Microsoft has put in place over the past two years as it has been developing Windows 2000 are designed to help enterprise customers. It has tweaked feature sets in order to appeal to dot-com companies, line-of-business customers and branch-office customers, officials said.

But when asked if Microsoft was fearful that customers might delay Windows 2000 deployments in the coming year, Microsoft senior vice president told press conference attendees that Microsoft was actually worrying about the opposite situation: an unanticipated high consumer uptick for Windows 2000 Professional.

At the press conference, Microsoft and CenterBeam announced a program to "buy back" PCs for $500 (£300) per PC. That $500 will be used to provide small business users with free management of their Windows 2000 desktop systems for three months.

For full Comdex coverage, see the Comdex '99 Special Report .

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