Recently, Gartner analyst Michael Silver recommended that organizations that have not yet begun their upgrade to Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional during the first half of this year should simply skip Windows 2000 Pro and go straight to Windows XP Pro. However, I would argue exactly the opposite. Organizations should upgrade all Windows 95, 98, and NT 4 machines to Win2K Pro this year and should simply ignore Windows XP Pro when it is released in October. Let’s take a look at the technical and strategic reasons for this course of action.

Sorting out the Windows name game

Microsoft originally referred to the successor to Windows 2000 by the codename “Whistler.” However, in recent months, it has split Whistler into two product lines and given the products their official names. It has dubbed the client version Windows XP, as in eXPerience. This product has two versions. Windows XP Professional is the successor to Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and Windows 2000 Professional. Windows XP Home Edition is the successor to Windows 95, 98, and Me. The server version of Whistler has been dubbed Windows 2002 Server, and this product line also includes the Windows 2002 Advanced Server and Windows 2002 Datacenter editions.

Technical reasons
First and foremost, there are several important technical reasons for choosing Windows 2000 Pro over Windows XP Pro. Here they are:

  • Win2K Pro is stable. Windows 2000 Professional has been a solid product since its early beta releases. It has been hardened by two Service Packs, and it is much more stable than Windows 95, 98, Me, or even NT 4.0 Workstation (which is much more stable than the other three). For numerous organizations, Win2K Pro has dramatically reduced the number of OS-related support calls. Windows XP Pro does not automatically inherit this stability. In fact, in testing Beta 1 and Beta 2, I found installation problems and some general sluggishness in Windows XP Pro. This fact combined with XP’s new interface could mean that supporting it will be considerably more expensive than supporting Win2K Pro.
  • Win2K Pro has compatible applications. A wide range of thoroughly compatible business applications for Win2K Pro is available. Software companies have had almost two years (if you count Win2K’s beta period) to tweak and refine their applications to run on Win2K Pro. Windows XP will sport “Compatibility Mode,” which is designed to run software in one of four modes (Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0 SP5, Windows 98/Me, or Windows 2000) if an application is having problems running natively in Windows XP. Nevertheless, there will inevitably be bugs and hang-ups with some applications in Windows XP, as there are with every new OS.
  • WinXP Pro hogs even more resources than Win2K Pro. One of the things that many of us have liked the least about Win2K Pro is that it requires a lot of resources. Generally, most administrators would not load it on anything less than a machine with a 300-MHz Pentium II (or equivalent) processor and 128 MB of RAM. However, WinXP Pro requires even greater resources. IT professionals who have tested XP even more thoroughly than I have say that in a production environment, you would not want to load XP on anything less than a 500-MHz Pentium III (or equivalent) processor with 256 MB of RAM. So a far more significant hardware investment is required. It’s ridiculous to have to allocate this much power to end users who simply access a couple of productivity applications and a couple of line-of-business applications.

Strategic reasons
A couple of additional reasons for choosing Win2K Pro over WinXP Pro have more to do with business than technology.

  • WinXP Pro offers very little additional value. All in all, Windows XP Pro provides few improvements over Win2K Pro. The most notable are the user interface enhancements and the System Restore feature (inherited from Windows Me). The user interface enhancements are among the main reasons that XP hogs more resources. The enhancements themselves attempt to simplify the interface, and in many ways they succeed. But for business users who already know how to access their applications and files, this is only going to prove more confusing. The System Restore feature is terrific in Windows Me. However, since WinXP is based on the NT kernel, it won’t have the memory, dll, and stability problems that Windows 9x/Me has, so the feature will not see nearly as much use. Win2K Pro is already very stable, so this feature can’t bring a lot of extra value.
  • Microsoft has a hidden agenda with licensing and product activation. Microsoft is aggressively pushing the WinXP upgrade. This fall, there will be a huge advertising blitz to drive upgrades to XP. Part of this push involves Microsoft’s hidden agenda for future product licensing. Microsoft is smart enough to know that the enhancements it’s making to its products are becoming less enticing, especially for corporate customers (its primary revenue stream). Thus, Windows XP is a first, small step in trying to move customers toward a future where software will be rented rather than bought from Microsoft. That will enable Microsoft to maintain a continual revenue from its corporate customers and keep it from having to compete with its installed base when it releases a new product.

    Microsoft is starting to make this shift with XP through changes to licensing agreements (for an example, see the changes being made to corporate agreements with the release of Office XP) and through product activation. With its licensing changes, Microsoft is trying to strong-arm companies into an upgrade schedule that fits with Microsoft’s agenda rather than a company’s needs and requirements. With product activation, Microsoft is making customers contact it (via Web or phone) to get an additional activation code before being able to use installed software. Both of these processes are beneficial to Microsoft, but they are ultimately quite harmful to business customers. Circumventing both is another tremendous motivator for going with Win2K Pro.

The end sum
If you have Windows 9x or NT 4 workstations in your organization, your best move would be to begin upgrading them to Win2K Pro before the end of the year. Microsoft probably will not sell licenses of Win2K Pro much longer than that. Once you make the upgrade to Win2K Pro, you should skip the WinXP Pro upgrade and wait for its successor to see which direction Microsoft goes with future upgrades and licensing.

If you already have Win2K Pro or are already in the process of a Win2K Pro rollout, there is even greater incentive for you to stick with it and to ignore WinXP Pro when it’s released, since upgrading from Win2K Pro to WinXP Pro has very little value.

Which client OS will your organization use?

How do you feel about the direction Microsoft is headed with Windows XP? We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.