Microsoft is revving up the marketing engines for the next millennium and is considering giving the next release of Windows NT a new name and an earlier-than-expected release date.
Microsoft officials are mulling a new name for the next-generation server/workstation OS, according to several sources close to the company. And although the software giant reportedly has not yet decided what will replace the "New Technology" abbreviation, sources said two candidates have emerged: Windows Professional, or Pro, and Windows 2000.
Microsoft likely will focus on the considerable brand equity it has built up with the word "Windows." Because Windows 98 is the last of the Windows 9x variants of the operating system, Microsoft would no longer need the letters "NT" to distinguish one desktop operating system from the other.
Meanwhile, the industry is becoming increasingly divided over expectations for NT 5.0's shipping schedule -- and whether NT 5.0 should be released sooner but incomplete, or later with fewer bugs.
Several ISPs have indicated that Microsoft is planning a March announcement and a June release. One source said Microsoft might rush the planned Beta 3 and deliver it as a Release Candidate. Microsoft has called NT 5.0's Beta 2, which was released in August, "feature-complete." As with NT 4.0, Microsoft is expected to follow up with a number of service packs that would add features that did not make the cut.
"There is no benefit in getting it out early," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at the Gartner Group, in Stamford, Conn., who has been advising customers that NT 5.0 will not be ready until 2000. "Beta 2 is unstable -- there are even device drivers missing -- and the product has got to be able to run everything from massive processor servers to a laptop."
Although IT managers may want to proceed with caution as they migrate from NT 4.0 to 5.0, Microsoft is working behind the scenes with system OEMs and top-tier corporate customers to push NT 5.0 onto servers and desktops more quickly, according to sources.
PC OEMs also stand to gain from an earlier release date.
"There certainly is an advantage for Compaq to get more customers on NT 5.0. You want to bring products forward as quickly as possible, and because customers require more processing power to run [NT 5.0], we are already motivated," said Michael Takemura, desktop marketing manager at Compaq in Houston.
When asked about what advantage the customer would gain from early adoption of NT 5.0, Takemura said, "That's the challenge with any customer. We are trying not to say you have to go with the first release."
Cliff Walters, laboratory supervisor at Mobile Technology, in Dallas, said he does not believe any amount of marketing or incentives will speed deployment of NT 5.0.
"Putting something in place sooner than it is ready is going to cost more than the initial purchase price. A dollar incentive to implement the next OS would not convince us to change our current standard NT environment, which runs worldwide on PCs," Walters said.
"On the other hand, we have stand-alone, task-oriented systems for such things as instrument control. We would be much more ready to upgrade because they are stand-alone, and [are] always interested in the latest and greatest," Walters said.
Walters would not move to another OS because of a delay.
"I cannot see any delay, unless we are talking years, that would cause a fundamental shift to look at alternative operating systems," Walters said.