Information technology managers see a glitch with Windows 2000: What if
is broken up?
With Microsoft almost certainly facing a breakup order in coming days, information technology managers are feeling Windows 2000 is anything but a sure thing. It's not that the platform is rife with bugs or prone to crash; on the contrary, IT pros say Windows 2000 is a remarkably stable system. But they are concerned about what kind of support they might get if Microsoft is sliced into different bits. And that's cooling enthusiasm for Windows 2000.
"This breakup thing has given me some apprehension over it," says Steven Cabana, a content-hosting manager who runs about 20 servers at streaming-media provider
located in San Mateo, Calif. He says he's been thinking about switching from his Windows NT systems to Windows 2000, but now will wait to see where the pieces fall after any potential breakup. "I'm holding off," he says.
Windows 2000, since its launch in February, hasn't been flying off the shelves. Analysts say its adoption rate has been slower than expected in the early going. The continued signs of sluggishness in Windows 2000 sales follow news in April of
lower-than-expected third-quarter revenue and lowered guidance from the company in the near term.
Though there are numerous reasons companies might be going slow on Windows 2000, including traditional anxiety about glitches in early releases of new software, it's clear some of the slow start can be blamed on Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. With that legal uncertainty looming over the company, some IT managers are taking a wait-and-see approach on adopting Microsoft's new platform.
Ed Garcia, IT director at the
, a high-tech public relations firm in San Francisco, is one of those on the fence.
"We're going to hang on to our existing systems for now," Garcia says. He runs both Windows 98 and Windows NT. The firm will eventually move to Windows 2000 because "there's no other equivalent product out there." But for now, he says, "We're going to wait and see until the decision is made regarding the split-up."
Cabana and Garcia aren't alone. IT managers across the country have been voicing concerns over a potentially orphaned product should Microsoft be broken up, says John Roberts, director of editorial research at trade publication
Computer Reseller News
, which routinely surveys IT managers.
"The corporations have to be convinced that Microsoft will still be there standing behind them in case something goes wrong," Roberts says. "You always need support, and knowing that Microsoft is going to be there is a security blanket. How is a split-up going to affect all the details that Microsoft has been so good at in the past?"
Of course, not all the slowness at Microsoft, or the flatter adoption of Windows 2000, can be blamed on the company's legal problems. There are technical issues as well. For one, few IT professionals like to be on the leading edge of system adoption, preferring to allow others to work out the kinks.
"No one wants to be first," says Christopher Mortenson, an analyst at
Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown
who rates Microsoft a buy. His firm has not performed recent underwriting for the company. "It's a pretty major upgrade, even if you're using NT 4.0. People are taking their time."
He says the slower ramp up of Windows 2000 isn't that surprising, especially since Microsoft said before its release that it wouldn't spur the revenue spike that Windows 95 did.
"Windows 95 was much more consumer-oriented, much more of a retail product," Mortenson says. "They said Windows 2000 would have a slower adoption. It's aimed at corporate buyers, and they don't line up overnight at Computer World to buy it when it first comes out."
Jeff Van Harte, manager of the $300 million
Transamerica Premier Equity Fund, which is long Microsoft, says worries over the company's immediate future may be misplaced. After all, even if the court orders a Microsoft breakup, that decision would likely lead to a lengthy appeals process.
"It would be hard for me to believe that a lot of IT managers would wait a very long time for the final final final resolution of this thing to occur," Van Harte says. "What are you going to do, wait another two years?"
At the same time, Van Harte says a decision to break the software maker into different parts might cause some problems for the company as well.
"You can always still collaborate by phone, but it's not the same as having everyone together on the same campus," Van Harte says. "I don't know if that would translate into a negative for the stock price, but I feel, operationally, it would be a negative if the company is broken."
Which are exactly the kinds of concerns that IT managers have about a Microsoft that is not one. But not all IT managers are shunning Microsoft's system.
Mark Christiansen, CTO at
Luna Information Systems
, an e-commerce software developer in Oakland, Calif., says he's already running the system on 30% of the company's laptops, an area where Windows 2000 has been winning praise from the tech community. With boxmakers installing Windows 2000 on the machines they ship, he says the system will inevitably take hold.
"We don't think the breakup is really going to be decided for a year, anyway," Christiansen says. "And for a start-up like ourselves, the fast way to get something down is usually the right way. If a box comes with software on it, that's the system to use."
Kevin Chao, co-founder and vice president of engineering at
, which develops Web-based supply-chain software in San Jose, Calif., says that a breakup of Microsoft actually might be beneficial in getting support for its products. His company is already implementing the system, as well.
"If Judge Jackson does decide to break the company up, I can't see that happening for a few years anyway, and by that time, Windows 2000 is going to be the standard," Chao says. "And if Microsoft was split into two or three parts, I would think they'd be more inclined to give us support. The different
support units within Microsoft are almost separate companies as they are. I think the breakup will give them more focus."
Still, there are clear disadvantages to a broken-up Microsoft in terms of its product line.
Eloquent's Cabana, for example, says he's worried the engineers who helped write Windows 2000 might leave the company if things come apart in Redmond.
"With the instability of the company, engineers could start to leave and
Microsoft's focus might not be on the product," Cabana says. "I'm not saying it's got catastrophic problems, because
Windows 2000 is stable. But it's a risk I don't want to take right now."
Many of his colleagues, apparently, don't want to take that risk either. Which means Microsoft, despite its best code-writing efforts, could face a glitch in Windows 2000 sales for quite some time.