Windows Decisions: Windows Server 2003, licensing tough sells for Microsoft

Windows Server 2003 will be a tough sell for Microsoft, and Licensing 6.0 continues to be a thorn in the sides of both Microsoft and its customers. These are two Redmond-related red flags admins and analysts raised at Windows Decisions 2003 in Chicago.

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John Enck, Gartner analyst

CHICAGO -- Microsoft's biggest challenges still include getting customers to migrate from older platforms, convincing them that Windows software is truly secure, and finding a friendlier way to license their software after angering so many customers with last year's licensing program.

At the Enterprise Windows Decisions conference this week, John Enck, vice president and research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., outlined the progress and shortcomings that Microsoft faces as it continues its push into the enterprise.

The issues are familiar. First, there is the matter of getting customers moved off of NT 4.0. The company's newest release, Windows Server 2003, is targeted at the estimated 60% to 70% of customers still running NT.

"You should be feeling the heat," Enck told the audience of about 250 IT executives. "There is tremendous pressure to get people to move from NT 4.0 to Windows Server 2003."

Gartner views Windows Server 2003 as a relatively minor release. Most of the important improvements are within Active Directory. But, unfortunately, users cannot realize these benefits unless all of the domain controllers in the enterprise are also Windows 2003.

Security concerns continue to haunt the company. Since Bill Gates' famous memo of January 2002, where he challenged his company to write more secure code, Microsoft has spent $100 million on its Trustworthy Computing initiative. The result is that the company has made strong improvements. "It's a step forward," Enck said. "But it's not the whole answer."

The price of Microsoft licenses remains an issue that vexes both the company and its customers. Customers are looking hard at Linux because they are finding it hard to pay for Microsoft's upgrades. Customers with old applications and tight budgets are leaving these apps on NT or, in some cases, Windows 98.

"We will have problems with their migration strategy," said Scott Winn, a network engineer with the city of Battle Creek, Mich.

"The public sector's rotation is five to seven years, not three years."

Winn said that he has to run one application on Windows 98 and some on NT because of budgetary constraints. It's unlikely he'll move his desktops to XP. Rather, he will probably opt to wait for the next release, code-named Longhorn.

Microsoft has continued to tweak its licensing program and will keep on doing so. Jim Hebert, general manager of the Windows server product management group, told conference attendees that customers should "expect us to continue to pay attention to licensing."

Enck said that if an enterprise is already on Windows Server 2000, then there is no pressing need to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 now, but it may be necessary to do so in the future. Windows Server 2003 was delayed because of changes made when the Trustworthy Computing initiative kicked in.

There is a possibility that Windows Server 2000 may reach its "end of life" before the next major release of Windows, code-named Blackcomb, is ready, Enck said.

Enck added that Microsoft is challenged by the fact that it has such a broad scope of product platforms to manage, ranging from Xbox to a variety of servers, with much in between. He thinks the company may find it tough to keep up with them all.

Despite everything, customers do appreciate the steady improvements to Windows, as well as some shifts in the company's attitude. "With Windows 2003, it looks like they came out with a much better product," said Richard Kramer, a systems engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

"Microsoft is becoming more receptive to heterogeneous environments. Before Windows Server 2003, you didn't see that," he said.

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