CHICAGO -- All Microsoft's best customers want is a software strategy they can live with.
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These IT administrators fed their love/hate relationship with Microsoft at TechTarget's Windows Decisions conference, where they voiced uncertainty about Windows 2000 or .NET migration; expressed fear and loathing about Microsoft's new licensing program; the merits, or lack thereof, of Active Directory; and shared other general angst with their peers.
Many praised Microsoft, particularly with regard to improvements within Windows 2000, but many administrators "kvetched" mightily about being forced to move off NT 4.0 and onto Windows 2000. Those already using Windows 2000 bemoaned trying to understand the value of moving to .NET, which many deem as nothing more than a service upgrade to Win2k.
John Enck, a vice president and senior research director at Gartner, the Stamford, Conn., consulting and market research firm, said that while there are some good features for application developers in Microsoft's upcoming .NET release, he didn't consider it to be a major release.
Many customers agreed.
"If you are already at Windows 2000, you have to think seriously whether .NET adds more to your environment," said Christopher Harmsen, manager of corporate systems administration at the Communications Security Establishment in Ottawa, Canada. "No point in upgrading twice in one or two years."
Others came to get a better understanding of the business justification for moving off a platform they are running successfully.
"There is a thin line between the technical side and the business side," said James Huston, a network engineer at the Law School Admission Council, Newtown, Penn., which is one of many organizations running NT 4.0. He feels forced to migrate when Microsoft stops supporting this older version of the operating system next year.
For those who are making an upgrade, the plan is to make sure the move is as mundane as possible.
"We have everything planned out," said Roger Capone, a software support specialist at North Syracuse Central School District, North Syracuse, N.Y. Capone has two months while the school is closed for summer vacation to make the upgrade.
IT administrators also fretted about the pros and cons of moving to Microsoft's new licensing plan -- a decision they must make by the end of July. Many customers are still confused about the plan, which essentially charges customers an annual fee for upgrades. If customers choose not to join the plan, they could lose out on discounts or product support.
Some customers like Tim Fenner, a network and system administrator at Sun Prairie, a Madison, Wis., pharmacy cooperative, said his company will eventually move to Software Assurance, the plan Microsoft is putting forth that works somewhat like a subscription model.
Kevin Rost, a network technologies manager at Autostock International, Barnaby, B.C., Canada, has yet to decide. "It's one of those things where we have to discover whether that's the best road to go or not," he said.
For many of the decision makers at Windows Decisions, their main concern is finding security holes, plugging them and achieving something of a stable computing environment.
"This year we are getting our management and monitoring tools in place," said Michael McDowell, a senior communications analyst at Jefferson Wells International, a Milwaukee professional services firm.
Many users plan to move to Active Directory but are wary of the potential dangers that can occur without proper preparation. One customer, who declined to be identified, likened setting up Active Directory to building a house and pouring the foundation. "If there are any cracks, forget it," he said. "The whole thing falls down."
Another customer said that Active Directory is best used somewhere that is strictly a Microsoft shop, but if the product were to compete as a standalone package, it would probably get "killed by Sun iPlanet or Novell Zenworks."
Assistant News Editor Meredith Derby contributed to this story.
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