April 17, 2000
IT Managers Find Advantages In Win2000
Consolidating on the operating system improves performance
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Replacing the hodgepodge of Windows NT, 95, and 98 PCs and notebook computers running throughout companies with one system--Windows 2000 Professional--can yield better application performance, easier support for mobile workers, and less-expensive, more-efficient strategies for managing groups of users and keeping software up to date, IT managers and analysts say. It's not the sexiest set of features Microsoft has ever introduced, but for companies that have to manage large numbers of employees working from remote locations, application performance and centralized support are key.
"We have lawyers who have dial-up problems in Bangladesh and high-profile people who work with CEOs of major companies," says William Schiefelbein, CIO of Minneapolis corporate law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP, which recently upgraded 1,500 desktops to Windows 2000. "When Walter Mondale has a problem, it's a little different than your typical user." It's not just the former vice president's residence on staff that compels Schiefelbein to keep current. "We're in the confidence business," he says. "We want our clients to know we're on the most cutting-edge technology. Internally, I want our lawyers to have the same confidence in our IT department."
The CIO says he eschewed a traditional return-on-investment calculation for the move to Windows 2000 Professional and Office 2000, though the 4-1/2-week rollout ran an affordable $10 per desktop. Performance of the productivity apps is snappier, and support for notebook users--pretty much the whole staff--is greatly improved compared with Windows 95.
For all the improvements in Windows 2000 Server vs. Windows NT 4, the changes in Windows 2000 on the desktop "could be even more important," Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer said last fall. In addition to experiencing fewer crashes, mobile users can benefit from new IntelliMirror features, which let users log on to their desktops from anywhere on the network; a hibernate feature for notebooks that actually works, users say; and support for offline folders that automatically synchronize with their corresponding network folders. "This is the one section of Microsoft's hype where you can pretty much read all the benefits they list, and it's true," Schiefelbein says. The only problem during the upgrade? Buggy code and lackluster technical support from Corel Corp., a mainstay of the legal industry. "They were not ready for Windows 2000," he says.
Gregor Bailar, executive VP and CIO at the National Association of Securities Dealers, the parent company of the Nasdaq Stock Market and the American Stock Exchange, says employees need network access from their offices, cars, and hotel rooms. But access everywhere leads workers to "this notion of almost unlimited personal use of their PC for whatever anyone wants to do," raising support costs by introducing unauthorized software, he says. Windows 2000 will make it easier for the NASD to centrally manage some 5,200 machines slated for upgrade to Windows 2000, Bailar says. The company has begun replacing diagnostic desktop visits--which chewed up engineers' expensive time--with reinstallation of all of a user's software.
Updates in Windows 2000 Professional include a SysPrep tool that lets administrators clone system images and configurations, protection of system files against overwrites when installing new software, clean uninstallation of applications, and component sharing to reduce dynamic link library (DLL) conflicts. Microsoft has clamped down on the Windows 2000 certification requirements for third-party apps, ensuring IT departments that compliant software takes advantage of the new operating system's remote software installation and system file protection features.
For the first time, Microsoft has also made its application specification freely available on the Web, so customers can make sure their in-house software takes advantage of the new system, even if they don't seek formal certification.
Microsoft has certified nearly 50 desktop applications for Windows 2000--including popular packages such as its Office 2000 suite, Symantec's pcAnywhere, and WRQ Reflection--and expects that number to approach 100 by June. But most independent software vendors say they plan to take advantage of Windows 2000's new features during their products' next release cycles. That could be because the requirements are so onerous. "Do you understand the word 'pain'?" says John Bonamico, director of development for Symantec's pcAnywhere utility, one of the first certified applications for Windows 2000 Professional. "They have a test plan the size of a phone book." Actually, it runs about 400 pages.
Bonamico recommends Windows 2000 users purchase version 9.2 of pcAnywhere, which lets IT help desks remotely control users' systems and transfer files to desktops. Version 9.2 supports the IntelliMirror install-on-demand capability, which places an icon representing pcAnywhere on desktops and distributes the app when it's first requested--the software isn't installed until a user tries to launch the application the first time. That way, only the people who use it will get it.
Network Associates Inc., the other leading utilities vendor, hasn't yet certified version 4.5 of its flagship McAfee VirusScan product, released last month. But the company plans to certify for Windows 2000 all the products in its Active Virus Defense suite. The latest version of the package includes a new ePolicy Orchestrator tool to manage as many as 100,000 desktops from a single server, automated cleaning for variations of existing viruses, and an Outbreak Manager to head off denial-of-service attacks that barrage companies' E-mail systems, says group marketing manager Sal Viveros. In addi-tion, Network Associates' GroupShield product for Exchange and Notes messaging servers uses a new Microsoft API for antivirus products that promises better performance for utilities running in conjunction with Microsoft's upcoming Exchange 2000 Server.
The Windows 2000 certification requirements aim to reduce administrative costs for IT departments and address the system file conflicts called "DLL Hell" that plagued previous client versions of Windows. Microsoft requires certified apps to adhere to Windows 2000's group policy features, which let administrators manage changes to the desktop for all users or specified groups, simultaneously. In addition, certified apps must install and uninstall cleanly, without overwriting previous versions of dynamic link libraries, and support newer and older versions of DLLs running side by side.
Photo of Bailar by Giorgio Palmisano
Photo of Schiefelbein by Doug Knutson
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