Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP, launched last fall, has failed to capture the corporate imagination. In part due to unfortunate timing, both social and economic, and in part due to the success of its predecessor, Windows 2000, XP had been a disappointment according to some analysts.

“For desktops it has underperformed expectations rather substantially,” said Robert Enderle, research fellow with Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, Calif. “[But] it is not the product’s fault per se.”

Though some of XP’s lack of acceptance could be blamed on releasing it so close to Windows 2000, Enderle said Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft was also in the unenviable position of introducing XP into a soft market.

“So a combination of factors did…a tremendous amount of damage,” said Enderle, who admitted to being a big XP fan. “[It] is arguably the best (OS) Microsoft has ever released,” he said.

Although Microsoft could not control the economy, the success of Windows 2000 did not help adoption. “Windows 2000 (was) well on the way and a lot of companies didn’t want to switch in midstream,” he said. “For somebody that has already moved and was happy on 2000, the proposition for doing another operating system migration just wasn’t there.”

Though he refused to give exact numbers, Brian Monette, director of marketing with Dell Computer Corp. in Toronto, said more of Dell Canada’s corporate customers are asking for Windows 2000 than XP. However, he said it’s the demands of existing licensing agreements, rather than the desire for one OS over the other, that often drives the XP choice. Corporate Dell is run on Windows 2000.

where are the users?

Though Microsoft told ComputerWorld Canada that 46 million copies of XP were distributed, it would neither comment on the percentage of those bought by corporations (as opposed to consumers, who traditionally are quicker to adopt new operating systems), nor comment on the percentage owned (but not yet installed) as part of a licensing agreement.

In fact, given a week to do so, Microsoft could not come up with one corporate customer for ComputerWorld Canada to speak to.

Enderle said part of the problem is out of Microsoft’s hands. Today, companies seldom upgrade an OS without upgrading the hardware. Upgrading to XP on existing hardware is “just too painful,” Enderle added. With the economy in the doldrums and little extra corporate cash at hand, there is little money available to buy new hardware.

EDS Canada is in the process of changing its desktops from Windows 98 to XP. Part of an ongoing corporate mandate to refresh desktops on a three-year basis, the decision has been made to go with XP over Windows 2000. Over the past year those which were upgraded to Windows 2000 will stay with 2000, but as of October all new desktops will run XP.

“Most often people will get an (XP) upgrade when they get a new machine,” said Paul Gifford, manager of internal services with EDS Canada in Calgary.

But even this decision is more about long-term planning and keeping up corporate appearances than any need to use XP per se. “There were no major things that XP offered that was driving us there other than currency,” he said. “Essentially it is an effort to stay current with technology,” he said.

“Selling [services] to our customers, it looks pretty bad to go in to sell somebody on how you want to run their systems if you are running a Windows 98 desktop,” he said.

George Corcoran, a systems administrator with environmental-testing laboratory ALS Environmental in Vancouver, said the thought of upgrading to XP never really crossed his mind. ALS runs a combination of Microsoft products, from a few older boxes running Windows 95 to NT and 2000 servers. ALS’ workstations run on Windows 2000, a product Corcoran is quite happy with. It is the most stable Windows platform ALS has used and it runs well with the company’s instruments, he said. Given the opportunity to upgrade to XP for free, would Corcoran make the jump? “Probably not. We have got enough to do,” he said.

The change to XP has not been all roses for Gifford. “Off-the-shelf software hasn’t been a major problem…but some of our internally written applications have had issues,” he said.

EDS staff was forced to go back and rework some pieces of code, “so some groups have not been able to migrate quite as quickly as they had hoped,” he added.

Though Gifford was not entirely surprised, EDS did have to go to a new SAP client as a result of the XP upgrade.

How successful XP will be in the years to come is up for debate. With .Net server soon to be released, some companies may take the opportunity to upgrade desktops to XP.

“There is a good chance that once somebody goes to .Net, they’ll be able to justify XP,” Enderle said. Certain things, such as bandwidth control for instant messaging, cannot be done using XP desktops combined with Windows 2000 servers, he said.

But Enderle said Microsoft’s own push toward the next generation might harm the one at hand. XP’s replacement, code-named Longhorn, may be released in 2004. If .Net server is released late in 2003, companies may choose to wait for Longhorn, upgrade everything together, and never buy a copy of XP.

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