"Windows 2000 has been an extraordinarily success operating system," said Steve O'Halloran, the managing director of AssetMetrix Research Labs, the arm of the Ottawa-based firm that analyzed the data collected from more than 150,000 PCs in 250 companies. "Perhaps too successful."
The conundrum, said O'Halloran, is in the lifespan of Windows 2000, which at the end of June exits what Microsoft calls Mainstream Support and enters Extended Support, where non-security hotfixes are provided only to companies with support contracts in place.
"The sky won't fall when Extended Support goes into effect," said O'Halloran, "but it should be a wake-up call to companies with continued investments in Windows 2000. You've got five years to figure out how to transition, and like everything, it's going to sneak up on you if you're not careful."
Windows 2000's end of support is scheduled for June 30, 2010, five years from the end of this month.
According to AssetMetrix's data, Windows 2000's share of the corporate Windows market has shrunk by just 4 percent since the first quarter of 2003, and now is pegged at 48 percent. Windows XP, meanwhile, accounts for 38 percent, up from a measly 6.6 percent two years ago.
The gains in Windows XP came primarily from users leaving Windows 9x -- Windows 95, 98, and Me -- and were most impressive in companies of fewer than 250 PCs, said O'Halloran. The larger the firm, the stronger Windows 2000's presence, he added.
O'Halloran ascribes Windows 2000's success -- at the same point in its lifespan, Windows 98 held just 30 percent of the Microsoft desktop market -- to a variety of factors, most important the fact that it's "a robust operating system that garnered overwhelming acceptance, and has a rich ecosystem." It didn't hurt that the recession of 2002 forced companies to keep PCs longer than expected, and that Windows XP's security woes made front-page news. "Those contributed to Windows 2000 hanging on longer than really warranted.
"But now we're at an inflection point," said O'Halloran, and time to get off the fence. "Companies should be asking themselves at this point if they're using Windows 2000 for a good reason, perhaps because of a mission-critical application or process. If the answer is no, let [Windows 2000] go through obsolescence or a planned migration."
That migration, however, won't necessarily be to Windows XP for everyone still hooked on Windows 2000. "Some may hold onto Windows 2000 until Longhorn arrives, and just leapfrog XP," said O'Halloran. "The move to XP is a different paradigm shift [than Windows 2000]." Another factor is that Longhorn is (at least for the moment) scheduled for a late 2006 release, meaning that companies would either get relatively little time out of XP if they intend to go to Longhorn, or remain at least one operating system behind the newest if they stuck with it long-term.
The latter, however, is increasingly common, said O'Halloran, who used the Windows 2000 usage data and Microsoft's lifecycle schedules to prove his point.
"Each of Microsoft's operating systems has had a longer lifespan than the one before it," he said. Windows 2000's total lifespan, from release to end of all support, will be 10 years and 6 month, 2 and a half years longer than Windows 98. Windows XP's lifecycle is set to run a full 12 years. (Assuming Longhorn releases at the end of 2006, Windows XP's support won't run out until 2014.)
"Microsoft will have to have Longhorn around even longer," said O'Halloran. "That's the nature of embryonic growth, like we've seen in operating systems. As things grow and evolve, they become less disposable."