Feature: XP turns toddler

With its first birthday approaching, it's time to take stock of how Microsoft Windows XP is faring in the market.

With its first birthday approaching, it’s time to take stock of how Microsoft Windows XP is faring in the market.

The good news for Microsoft is that in general, users who have migrated to Windows XP are pleased with most aspects of the operating system. They praise the easy migration from older versions of Windows; and the stability and increased performance of Windows XP, both of which boost productivity. Dean Waters of marine engineering firm Wavecrusher Boats even goes as far as to say that Windows XP is the first Microsoft operating system that has delivered on all its promises.

The bad news for Microsoft is that for many corporate customers, upgrading to Windows XP is far from an automatic move. To start with, the IT economy is still in a gutted state. Even though Windows XP has features that will ultimately help contain costs for enterprises, such as improved remote manageability and overall robustness, the expense associated with upgrading from earlier versions of Windows means IS management will think carefully about such a move.

Furthermore, Windows XP on the desktop is best served by Microsoft operating systems and applications in the server room. It plays fairly well with Unix/Linux and Windows NT, but to really enjoy the full benefits of Windows XP, enterprises are looking at implementing an end-to-end Microsoft solution based on Active Directory.

For companies using Windows NT, Active Directory means migrating to Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server, a requirement that adds further costs for hardware upgrades, staff training and dealing with compatibility issues arising from integrating legacy Windows clients and applications.

Also, as Active Directory is very much a Microsoft proprietary technology, aimed exclusively at Windows, it isn’t of much benefit to heterogeneous IT environments with Unix/Linux and Macintosh clients/servers.

Ultimately, moving to Windows XP means committing to Microsoft’s .Net strategy, which isn’t set in stone at this stage, making it difficult to assess whether or not it’s suitable in the long run. On top of introducing a complex integrated computing vision encompassing desktops and servers, Microsoft has further clouded the waters with the new and confusing Licensing 6.0 (Software Assurance) agreement, which has been met with howls of outrage by users. In a survey of 1500 corporations worldwide in March this year, Sunbelt Software found that a third do not have the money to upgrade to Licensing 6.0. And respondents to a Computerworld email survey conducted earlier this month showed that 88% still hadn’t enrolled for the new licensing scheme, which comes into effect on July 31, and fourth fifths of those had no plans to.

It’s difficult to gauge exactly how well Windows XP is doing in terms of licence sales. Jay Templeton, Windows platform product manager at Microsoft New Zealand, says “sales of Windows XP [in New Zealand] have exceeded expectations by around 24%”. However, Microsoft New Zealand was unable to give specific sales figures.

As an indicator of just how conservative Microsoft’s business customers are, market analyst International Data (IDC) says that while worldwide sales of Windows XP Professional rocketed more than 13-fold in its first year, Windows NT Workstation and Windows 2000 Professional outsold it by a third.

The same IDC research estimates that sales of the two latter operating systems won’t peter out until around 2006, a lengthy time-span Microsoft can’t be happy about. To counter this, Microsoft has announced that it will discontinue support for legacy operating systems (that is, Windows 98, ME and NT) by June next year, adding pressure on upgrade recalcitrants.

On the home front, sales in 2001 of Windows XP Home Edition were almost three times those of Windows XP Professional — some 11,000 compared to 3500. However, IDC forecasts that the professional edition of Windows XP will overtake the home one in terms of sales, and stay ahead for the foreseeable future. The main reason for this is the sluggish growth in the PC retail market, which is expected to remain in the doldrums until 2003 at least.


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