Users who follow Microsoft's advice to blend all of its products into one harmonious enterprise mix are starting to feel burned as the software behemoth struggles to address issues ranging from piracy to bug fixes to slipping ship dates.
The broad release of Office 2000 -- which for Microsoft will usher in a new method of ensuring that its software products are registered -- has been pushed back to the second quarter of 1999, company officials have confirmed.
Meanwhile, many Windows NT 4.0 users who downloaded Service Pack 4 (SP4) for the OS in October -- an update that was more than one year in the making -- complain that it is cumbersome and is woefully short on documentation.
The company is also finally addressing some key year 2000 concerns with Windows. Windows 95 requires several patches to make the OS year 2000 compliant, with "minor exceptions" in Microsoft's words. Microsoft currently offers those year 2000 fixes only for English versions of the OS, although officials said they are testing fixes for all international versions.
Other potential problems on the desktop stem from Beta 2 of Office 2000, which was pre-released to a group of testers last week. Microsoft introduced a new feature to Beta 2 that steps up already insistent registration policing. If a copy of Office 2000 is not registered after 50 uses, it cannot be booted on attempt No 51 until the user has contacted Microsoft about registration.
Microsoft billed the feature as a way to help customers register so they can best take advantage of updates and other Office resources. But clearly, the main goal is to curtail software piracy, an area in which Microsoft has stepped up efforts in recent months.
The company recently began compiling reports that outline how individual states are losing millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs each year due to software piracy.
"Some Symantec products continually prompt you to register and it drives you nuts, but as far as turning it off, I haven't run into a product doing this," said Rob Enderle, a senior analyst at the Giga Information Group. "The problem Microsoft has is people buying one copy of Word in an office and everybody copying it."
The registration wizard -- which John Duncan, Office product manager, said could be added to other Microsoft products in the future -- likely will have to be tweaked for corporate multiuser scenarios, one beta tester suggested.
"Certainly, Microsoft will have to deal differently in shops that have users working off of the server," the tester said.
Beta 2 of Office 2000, with features such as the capability to let users save documents in HTML, is set to enter widespread testing in the next two weeks. However, final shipping of the product has been delayed until the second quarter of 1999, although it could be in the hands of the company's biggest customers earlier.
"You will see Office 2000 RTM [release to manufacturing] in the second quarter of 1999, and we actually expect to have the product available to volume-licence customers shortly thereafter," Duncan said. "Broad availability likely will be in the second quarter of 1999."
The extra wait for Office 2000 will give IT managers time to figure out Windows NT 4.0 SP4, which was released in October.
"SP3 was auto-install and it was no hassle, but you have to move slowly on SP4 and do a lot of things manually," said a user who requested anonymity. "You can't have a fresh Windows NT install and put on SP4 -- you must have SP3, Internet Explorer 4.01, and its Service Pack 1 before you can begin to put it on. It really ties the browser to NT more than ever; they've really linked it up even further."
SP4 is also designed to apply bug fixes only to what is currently installed on a system. So if an IT manager adds an NT service later on, SP4 will have to be reapplied, according to one disgruntled user.