American Airlines is something of a rare bird in the corporate computing arena.
Later this year, Philip Holden, senior systems analyst at the Dallas-based airline, will begin rolling out Windows 98 on some 12,000 desktops -- an environment that now is about 80%Windows 3.1.
Not Windows NT 4.0. No waiting for NT 5.0 to ship next year. For American Airlines, it will be Windows 98, the operating system that Microsoft has pointed squarely at the consumer market.
"We looked at our users and the types of applications they're running, and they told us we needed to have an operating system that supports 16-bit applications still in the enterprise," Holden says. "Secondly, we didn't feel the greater resource requirements of NT 4.0 were justified. We felt that Windows 9x was suitable and robust enough for the Office apps, e-mail, and other things we have."
Most of Windows 98's new features, particularly DVD, Universal Serial Bus (USB) support, and further Windows-Internet Explorer integration and the Active Desktop environment, are geared toward the consumer market.
Although Microsoft did include some deployment and system management tools for corporations that want the upgrade from Windows 95, the message from Redmond, Washington, is clear: the high-end NT 4.0 is more suited for workstation/server environments.
The cost of conducting a wholesale upgrade to a 32-bit environment was a key factor in American Airlines' decision to go with Windows 98, Holden says.
"Twenty to 25%of our apps are 16-bit, including some stuff that was written as little as a year ago," Holden says. "Eventually it all needs to be rewritten (for 32-bit), but when we're talking about spending money we talk about money to buy new airplanes or terminals, not application development."
Once Windows 98 is in place, American will stick with it for at least four years, Holden says. By then, Microsoft should have followed through on its plan to phase out the Windows 9x line in favor of one, NT-based line of operating systems.
The timing of the release was another major decision point.
"If NT 5.0 was up and running now, that might actually change the equation somewhat. But we're six to 12 months out from that deployment," Holden says. "And if Windows 98 had been deployed later because of some Department of Justice situation that caused a delay in the release of the software, I think we'd be rolling out Windows 95."