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Will a stripped-down Windows XP reach the summit?

Microsoft's plans for Eiger could help businesses get more shelf life out of older Windows desktops, but how many companies want to save their dinosaur hardware from extinction?

Microsoft expects to introduce a "lean" client operating system, code-named Eiger, next year to allow older hardware to run a streamlined version of Windows XP. Customers and analysts say the concept is interesting, but its appeal for corporate environments is limited.

The Eiger operating system, capable of running on machines with Pentium II 233 MHz processors with 128 MB of memory, is meant to bring older PCs still running operating systems like Windows NT, up to the XP level.

The system's ability to run local applications separates it from the thin client, said Michael Silver, research vice president with Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.

Eiger is designed for enterprise users, he said, but could be useful for larger medium-sized businesses. "It's really designed for areas where I'm not using heavy applications or I'm not using many applications," Silver said.

Limits for locally run applications

Internet Explorer and a Windows Media program will be able to run locally, but more complex applications, such as those in the Microsoft Office suite, can be run on a server and accessed by the machine using Windows Terminal Services or software from Citrix Systems Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Eiger will also have viewers for applications like PowerPoint and Excel, but users will not have full versions with editing capabilities.

"This is a way to get an [updated] operating system and security holes out of their landscape without replacing the hardware, so that's certainly a good thing," Silver said. "If they can use the same management tools to manage it, that's a plus. … Just because Intel can't sell a new machine and get any revenue out of a customer, it doesn't mean Microsoft can't do it."

While IT professionals find the concept of Eiger interesting, many said that their organizations don't keep PCs long enough for it to be useful.

"Our organization would not use it," said Chris Kim, senior IT engineer with Jabico Enterprises LLC, in Santa Cruz, Calif. "IT lives on the cutting edge. Hardware that is two years old, especially desktops, are ancient in this world. Pentium II's are prehistoric. None of our clients have any interest in utilizing old hardware or technology. This is marketable only to small nonprofits and organizations, which have much of their infrastructure donated."

Luring back those looking at Linux

Dave Holden, IT manager with the Alabama Department of Revenue, said that while he agrees Eiger is interesting, his organization also uses newer machines.

With Eiger, Microsoft offers a choice for users who were considering moving to Linux rather than upgrading their hardware and moving on to the latest Microsoft operating system.

"I think they do need to investigate other ways to get revenue from customers where the PC is not being replaced, and they also need to continue examining smaller, thinner versions of Windows," Silver said. "While we don't expect this one to be a differentiator in terms of cost, they do need to examine lowering the cost to get into some markets. At this point, it sounds like Microsoft is only looking at this for old machines, but is there room for an OS like this for new machines?"

Committed to a refresh cycle

Errol Small, an IT manager with NBC Universal, in Burbank, Calif., said the operating system would need to be tested in his environment and that older machines have older systems for a reason.

"Our PC refresh rates are scheduled during a three-year cycle, meaning that the majority of our P3/4 [Pentium 3 and 4] desktops are either Windows 2000 or XP," Small said. "There are small pockets that are dependent on earlier versions of Windows to accommodate certain applications that only support these operating systems."

Gartner's Silver said that Microsoft benefits from keeping customers loyal to its Windows operating systems and away from switching to Linux. "Certainly for folks who already have Windows, having only one platform to worry about will be a plus," he said.

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