With the launch of Windows XP (formerly known as “Whistler”), Microsoft will finally be merging the Windows 9x and Windows NT/2000 product lines into one Windows operating system (with Personal and Professional editions) based on the NT kernel. In this week’s column, we’ll look at the pros and cons of Windows XP and discuss the impact its release will have on businesses that currently use Windows 9x systems.

We’ve heard this one before
While Windows 2000 was in development, there was speculation that Microsoft would be integrating Windows 9x into the Windows NT product line (soon to be Windows 2000). It was rumored that there would be one Windows product with a version for home users and a version for businesses.

At the last minute, Microsoft opted to delay the merger of Windows 9x and Windows NT. Instead, the company released Windows 2000 Professional as the successor of Windows NT 4.0 Workstation and released a minor upgrade to Windows 98 with Windows Millennium Edition. A lot of people were upset by this move and wondered if Microsoft would ever move away from the Windows 9x DOS-based kernel.

The promise has been made again
With the announcement of Windows XP, Microsoft has once again stated that it will be merging its Windows products into one in order to bring the advantages of the NT kernel to its more popular Windows product line, Windows 9x. Microsoft promises that this new OS will be faster, more stable, more secure, and better equipped for the emerging information revolution. The company is already beginning to promote this change as a breakthrough in personal and professional computing.

Microsoft is claiming that the release of Windows XP will be the most significant development for the Windows product line since the debut of Windows 95. Judging from the most recent beta and Microsoft’s literature on Windows XP features, this is not just hype from the Microsoft marketing machine. However, there are a lot more business computers with Windows 9x installed now than there were with Windows 3.x when Windows 95 was released. Thus, the stakes are much higher.
Although the product has yet to be released, Microsoft has an entire Web site devoted to information about its next-generation operating system, Windows XP. Visit this site to find out more about this new operating system that Microsoft claims will change computing forever.
Win9x finally bows out
The simple truth is that the Windows 9x kernel is outdated. It’s a DOS-based kernel that has serious stability and security problems. While Microsoft has successfully pushed this product line to its extreme limits, the company has realized that in order to successfully keep up with competition, home and business users must be given an operating system based on a kernel that isn’t limited by legacy code.

As a result, once Windows XP is released, look for Microsoft to phase out support for all products for the Windows 9x kernel as soon as possible, much like it has phased out its DOS and Windows 3.x products with the arrival of Windows 95. The company has already begun the process with its current campaign to make Windows 9x products less appealing for users.

Recent Microsoft advertisements poke fun at the common Blue Screen of Death found in Windows 9x operating systems, stating that Windows 2000 users can cut the image out of the magazine and place it on their monitor if they miss it.

However, despite the stability and security advantages promised by XP, there are some potential drawbacks.

The good, the bad, and the ugly
While most users will agree that there are plenty of advantages to moving Windows 9x machines to the more stable NT kernel, several important issues must be considered before making the move:

  1. Driver support
    As with Windows 2000, one of the largest problems facing those who upgrade is the availability of drivers for the hardware components in your machine. What’s worse, if you have a product that’s no longer supported by a vendor, such as a Voodoo3/4/5 video card by 3Dfx, it’s unlikely that there will be new drivers available for the new operating system(s).
  2. Legacy software
    Some software wasn’t designed to run on an NT-based operating system. The most notable example is proprietary DOS and Win9x software custom-developed for an organization. These applications sometimes even have issues with Windows NT systems, where they can become unstable or inoperable. Some can even cause problems for Windows NT systems and other applications on those systems. Microsoft will have to address this issue.
  3. Learning curve
    If you think learning the ins and outs of Windows 9x systems was difficult, wait till you get into an NT-based operating system. While the operating systems may look somewhat similar, things will be located in different areas, and options that you may rely on daily might not exist in Windows XP. Users will need training to become familiar with the new OS before making the move to upgrade.

Where to go from here
Microsoft will be generating a lot of hype to tempt users to move to Windows XP, but organizations should be aware that their current Windows 9x operating system will be quietly pushed into obscurity. Microsoft will attempt to convert home and business users who run Windows 9x operating systems to the new OS as quickly as possible so that support for older operating systems can be phased out.

Businesses currently running Windows 9x on their desktops should definitely consider using Windows XP Professional rather than Windows XP Personal, the true successor to Windows 9x. Also, it’s important to remember that Windows XP Personal is a major upgrade for Windows 9x, but Windows XP Professional is a very minor upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional.

Some organizations may want to consider upgrading from Windows 98 to Windows 2000 Professional rather than Windows XP Professional since Windows 2000 Professional is now a solid OS client that many IT pros have plenty of experience with and which now boasts various patches and service packs as part of its credentials.
Many users are eagerly anticipating the release of Microsoft’s next-generation operating system, Windows XP. Are you one of those users, or would you rather stick with your current Windows OS? We want to hear your thoughts! Feel free to leave a post below or send us a note with your opinions on the subject.