Users slow to upgrade Windows versions

Many corporate users of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating systems aren’t keeping up with the steady cycle of version releases and some are considering abandoning the server operating system because of constant upgrades, a market researcher said Wednesday based on results of a new survey.

The majority of IT managers polled by Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. (IDC) say they are not upgrading their desktop and server software at the same pace that Microsoft is releasing version upgrades. IDC surveyed more than 300 IT managers known to be Windows NT or Windows 2000 users.

Windows users are in no hurry to roll out Windows XP for desktops and the upcoming server software release, Windows .Net Server, IDC said. Aside from the cost and technical burden of upgrading computer systems, most customers are still working to get Windows 2000 systems rolled out.

“Users say their movement to Microsoft’s latest operating systems will proceed on their schedule, not on Microsoft’s schedule,” said Al Gillen, a systems analyst with IDC who studies Windows customer trends.

The trend clashes with Microsoft’s new volume licensing program, called License 6.0, which requires corporate customers to stay current with each new version of Windows or risk paying more for the software, Gillen said.

Microsoft calls License 6.0 the most simple and cost effective way for customers to purchase its software. However, critics and some analysts have said that the new plan could end up costing customers as much as 107 per cent more than they currently pay for Microsoft software due to hidden costs associated with staying current.

As a result, about 15 per cent of the customers polled said that demands to keep upgrading corporate computing systems provided the incentive to move to a competing operating system, such as Linux and Unix, according to the survey

“It’s a small percentage but nevertheless, for 15 per cent of its customers to be unhappy with a policy Microsoft is setting is not a good sign,” Gillen said.

James Carpenter, a senior programmer with Pasadena, Calif.-based, a division of Ticketmaster Inc., agreed that Microsoft’s upgrade cycle is difficult for many corporate customers to keep up with. His company is currently in the process of upgrading its corporate computer system to Windows 2000, and he said that a move to Windows .Net Server is still some time off.

“The Windows 2000 desktop is good for 20 years why upgrade to a new system every two or three years?” Carpenter said.

One impediment to staying current with Microsoft’s latest version releases has to do with the time and complexity of upgrading computer systems, according to the survey by IDC, which is owned by International Data Group Inc., the parent company of IDG News Service. That often translates to extra costs for IT departments.

“(Microsoft) doesn’t talk about implementation costs. They’re probably just as big as the cost of the license,” Carpenter said. “It is technically difficult and time consuming. You have to have specialists on staff to keep doing rollouts and that gets to be an expensive process.”

In fact, three out of four companies report that they are at the beginning stages of adopting Windows 2000 on the server side, according to IDC’s survey.

Among those customers surveyed who are upgrading to Windows 2000, IDC found that Microsoft’s directory services software, Active Directory, remains one of the greatest kinks in the upgrade process. According to the survey, 36 per cent of respondents have delayed Windows 2000 rollouts because of the complexity associated with implementing Active Directory.

“Plans to use Active Directory are extremely high. The problem is that actually doing that is still sometimes difficult and time consuming,” Gillen said.

On the desktop, corporate customers are cautiously upgrading to Windows XP as they wait for the desktop operating system to become more stable. Already, Microsoft has released a patch to fend off a critical hole in the operating system that left users on the Internet vulnerable to hackers. The patch fixes a problem with the UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) feature, which is built to recognize peripheral devices such as scanners and printers when they are plugged into a Windows PC.

“Business users typically have concerns about a new Microsoft product, and that concern was proven to be fairly meaningful when that UPnP bug was revealed,” Gillen said. “They want to wait for those things to happen and get fixed.”

IDC, in Framingham, Mass., is at