Decision time for Windows 2000 users – what I really think

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be quoted on the front page of IT Week by Martin Veitch, in his article “Decision Time for Win2000 Users“. Of course, as my wife is a Public Relations Consultant, I understand (and even expect) only a partial quote when a journalist asks for comment, so I’m using my blog to put this into context, as the soundbite which Martin used seems to have surprised some people, including one of Microsoft UK’s Enterprise Strategy Consultants.

Yes, Windows 2000 is still popular. The AssetMetrix Research Labs report, on which Martin’s article is based, notes that between the last quarter of 2003 and the first quarter of 2005 the popularity of Windows 2000 only fell by 4%. However, the real news here is not that clients are sticking with Windows 2000 but that people are finally junking Windows 9x/ME/NT and moving to XP. Windows 9x system usage fell over the same period from 28% to 5%, Windows NT was down slightly (down from 13.5% to 10%) whilst Windows XP usage increased from less than 7% to 38%.

My colleagues and I have worked with many organisations to migrate from Windows 9x and NT to XP; but the reason that Windows 2000 is still in use by 48% of corporate IT environments is that (when patched), it is a stable and reliable platform. Microsoft may have ended support for NT last year, and 2000 is about to go onto extended support but firms are willing to tolerate the risk of not moving, whilst they recoup the investment that they have made. The heady days of the late 1990s “millennium date bug” upgrades are gone and business users are demanding value for money from their IT assets. Many of my clients have moved away from a 3 year write down of desktop PCs to 5 years, or even 7 years in one case (mind you, I’m helping them to move their retail estate from NT 3.51 to XP!). That means that those who took a big leap to implement Active Directory and adopt Windows 2000 are contemplating skipping a release, before they move directly to the next version of Windows (codenamed Longhorn). What I do expect to see over the next year or so is a lack of Windows 2000 device drivers and the consequential hardware issues driving a move to Windows XP and Server 2003 where perhaps corporates are downgrading Windows XP licenses on new PCs to match their Windows 2000 standard operating environments (SOEs).

As for Linux or the new low-cost Mac, well, at the risk of being flamed (or even accused of being sponsored by Microsoft – which incidentally I’m not!), I don’t see any of my customers moving from Windows on the desktop (yet). The education sector may be being forced down an open source route to save money (false economy I say – we should be teaching our children using the software that they will later encounter in the workplace), and consumers/hobbyists will be looking at the best technology, but in the commercial world, the reality is that organisations are not usually interested in the best technology, or even the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) – a much overused term which is always open to dispute – but are more concerned with deploying software that the majority of users can use with the least retraining whilst minimising licensing costs through volume licensing agreements – by and large that will mean using the Windows platform and the software vendor will be Microsoft!

So what is my real advice for Windows 2000 users?

  1. Build on your Windows 2000 investment and take advantage of new security features by moving to Windows XP (with SP2) and Windows Server 2003 (with SP1) now.
  2. Windows 9x/NT to 2000 was a step change but the move to XP/2003 is less so (and the licensing costs should be minimal for those organisations that already have software assurance).
  3. Don’t wait until Windows Longhorn. This will be another major release, which is not expected until 2006 (client, with the server version following in 2007), after which many organisations will still wait for the first service pack before deploying.
  4. Finally, new technologies (such as Internet Explorer 7.0), with new features and security enhancements will only be available for recent platforms (i.e. those that are still supported by Microsoft).

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