Facing Windows 2000: The upgrade imperative

Like many in the technology business, I used to look forward to trying out new

software. I was eager to experiment with new features and find out how to put

them to good use. But somewhere in the countless service releases and service

packs that software vendors release these days, my eagerness has been replaced

by fear and anxiety. As software has grown increasingly complex and buggy, I find

that the new features aren't always worth the price and risk.

I'm not the only one. As federal agencies have become more Internet-focused,

government technology managers know that it's the taxpayers who usually suffer

first from an ill-advised or inadequately tested upgrade of government systems.

Now along comes Windows 2000, the soon-to-be-released version of Microsoft

Corp.'s Windows NT enterprise operating system. With Windows NT rapidly chomping

up market share in the federal server market, agency IT managers have kept a

careful eye on the development of Windows 2000. Most of them are aware of its

promised benefits such as performance improvements, greater scalability and more

stability.

However, with the release of Windows 2000 plagued by delays and the number of

Windows NT service packs climbing (now on Service Pack 6a), I can't help but feel

more apprehension than anticipation toward Windows 2000.

Don't get me wrong. Windows 2000 should provide agencies with some great

benefits — cost savings not being least among them. But the benefits will be elusive

unless the organizations adopting the new software plan and execute the upgrade

very carefully. For instance, agencies running older Windows software applications

may run into compatibility problems with Windows 2000. And to take full advantage

of its performance improvements, you may have to upgrade your applications and

database software to new versions that were designed to run on it.

Many IT managers have been experimenting with beta versions of Windows 2000 for

several months. If you have the time and resources to do this, it will be worthwhile.

For those managers planning to take the plunge with the initial release of Windows

2000, do the taxpayers a favor and make sure the benefits outweigh the risks.

Remember: The risks are immediate, but you may have to wait for a couple service

packs before the rewards kick in.

Barring any drastic court rulings in Microsoft's antitrust case, I expect Windows

2000 to be the dominant server operating system in the federal government in two

to three years. But could this rise happen sooner if Windows 2000 really delivers? I

don't think so. Agencies have taken a "wait and see" attitude toward new

technology. Despite the promises of Windows 2000 and the product's importance in

the federal market, I don't expect this pattern to change.

— Plexico is as vice president and chief technology officer at Input, an IT market

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