2003 opens new OS possibilities

Steve Ballmer, who has built a reputation for excitable conference stage presentations, will have spent last weekend limbering up...

Steve Ballmer, who has built a reputation for excitable conference stage presentations, will have spent last weekend limbering up for a barnstorming performance to herald the official release of Windows 2003. Once the fanfares end, users will have to give some serious consideration to their upgrade strategy.

For all the hype, Windows 2003 will offer no more than an incremental improvement on Windows 2000. In analyst phraseology, it is a "dot one release". But both will offer distinct improvements on NT4.

With support for NT4 ending on the last day of next year, Microsoft is hoping that significant numbers of its NT4 user base will migrate to their latest release. Microsoft has already refused to develop a fix for at least one flaw in NT4.

For NT4 users, the arrival of Windows 2003 represents a punctuation mark in their operating system strategy. Staying on the platform without the safety net of Microsoft support is clearly too great a risk. Those who decide to stay with Microsoft would do well to leapfrog Windows 2000 and opt for Windows 2003. Given the timescale of any operating system roll-out, failure to do so would consign them to a frustrating cycle of release chasing. Of course, for now they should monitor the experiences of the early adopters and wait for the price of Windows 2003 consultancy to drop.

Unix users, on the other hand, should definitely consider migration to 64-bit Windows 2003, which promises to offer better price performance than existing Unix products. Moving to an Itanium-based machine will enable them to run other flavours of operating system, as well as Windows 2003.

As for IT departments currently migrating to, or established on the Windows 2000 platform, the message must be to stay put. The hardware, memory and installation costs, and the re-evaluation and project management headaches involved cannot be justified by the incremental benefits to be gained.

And what of Linux? Many IT pundits predict this will be the year when the penguin waddles centre-stage, since it and Windows operating systems offer comparable price performance. The step up from NT4 to Windows 2003 is such a big one, requiring such substantial hardware investment that users might just as easily explore the possibilities of Linux. And in the Unix sphere, users will be mindful of the fact that they already have many of the skills in place to run Linux on 64-bit Itanium servers.

These are fascinating times in the big league of operating systems. Microsoft is gambling to win this year, Linux is the wildcard, and the stakes could not be higher.

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