Win2000: Later '99 (and counting)

Can Microsoft beat the Year 2000 budget blues? Time's running out.

If you were among those expecting Microsoft Corp. to ship Windows 2000 by mid-1999, don't hold your breath.

Beta 3 of the long-awaited operating system is now not expected to reach testers until April, Microsoft officials confirm. And Microsoft itself, in a tacit acknowledgement that Windows 2000 won't be a first-half product, told resellers this week that it is extending its Windows NT Server 4.0 upgrade promotion through June 30.

If Windows 2000 slips much beyond a mid-year ship date, Microsoft could find itself facing head-on problems that the company has claimed are figments of analysts' imaginations: Namely, that IS departments, faced with Year 2000 budget concerns, may hold off for a year or more from deploying Windows 2000 en masse. Microsoft officials this week acknowledged that April is now the Beta 3 target, and claim any date slippage in the beta won't negatively impact the final ship date. "We're still shooting, hopefully, for an end of year ship date," says a corporate spokeswoman. "We are still expecting we can get it out before year-end."

Microsoft steadfastly has declined to say exactly when to expect Windows 2000 to ship, other than to claim that most flavours of the product will be available before the end of calendar 1999. Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server are slated to ship in 1999, with the higher-end Datacenter Server following within 60 days, Microsoft officials have maintained.

Microsoft shipped in mid-December Release Candidate 0 of Windows 2000 Beta 3. To many, that was a sign that the company was close to finalising the code which Microsoft is expected to make available to tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of testers. At that time, Microsoft officials said Beta 3 would ship in the first quarter of 1999. Since December, Microsoft has made a number of subsequent release candidates available to small groups of select testers. But according to sources close to Microsoft, the company is now talking April as the date when U.S. testers will be able to obtain Windows 2000 Beta 3 code.

Meanwhile, testers outside the U.S. are being told that Microsoft will crank up its Windows 2000 Corporate Preview Program in March, according to Nate Mook, Webmaster with BetaNews.Com. Mook says that testers in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom will be able to order preview copies of Windows 2000 Beta 3 and Office 2000 Beta 2 together. In the past, notes Mook all of Microsoft's public betas have been available in the U.S. only. But, "at the moment, no public Windows 2000 Beta 3 release has been announced for United States consumers," he says.

In another sign that Windows 2000 is running late, resellers say they were told this week that Microsoft is extending its price reduction for its Windows NT Server 4.0 upgrade promotion through the end of June. Customers who upgrade to NT 4.0 from previous NT versions or competitive operating systems between May 8, 1998, and June 30, 1999, are now eligible for the reduced-cost upgrade. Microsoft is even throwing in a free copy of Microsoft Services for NetWare, which sells for $149, as an added incentive for customers to upgrade as part of the promotion.

How much later than June Windows 2000 will ship is anyone's guess.

Last year, market researchers at Gartner Group were advising clients to exercise caution in implementing Windows 2000 "due to the number of new functions and the lack of available skills for NT Server v.5.0 [Windows 2000], but mainly because of the conflict of staff resources with those needed to prepare for 2000."

At the time Gartner issued this note, it expected Windows 2000 to ship in Q2 1999. It was advising all but its most risk-taking customers to wait for at least one or two service packs before deploying the new operating system.

Summit Strategies is a little less dire in its predictions. "If Microsoft has a solid [Beta 3], it still could hit Q3 1999 for production," says Summit analyst Dwight Davis. "If it slips into Q4, it's questionable as to whether Microsoft will ship it or wait for next year. But Platinum [Exchange Server 6.0] and other new Microsoft products are gated on this, so Microsoft needs to get it out there."

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