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Microsoft customer upgrades inevitable

With the economy improving, companies will -- finally, after three years -- bite the bullet and move up the food chain from NT 4 and Exchange 5.5 to newer versions of those products.

First, the good news for IT administrators: With the economy improving, companies will -- finally, after three years -- bite the bullet and move up the food chain from NT 4 and Exchange 5.5 to the newer versions of those products.

The pain companies experience in these rollouts will be mitigated by administrative gains from Active Directory, group policies, centralized patch control, antispam filtering technologies and improved security. The new software upgrades will also drive hardware refreshes and opportunities for IT to do more with less through server consolidation and cluster computing.

The bad news is that we'll be no closer to trustworthy computing next year than we were when Nimda and Code Red first burst onto the scene two years ago. What's more, the squabbling about who's to blame and who's responsible for fixing the problem will continue with as much heat and as little light as ever.

Look for Microsoft to shore up the perimeter of its firewall software with antivirus technology built into the new beta of ISA Server 2004. We'll also see improvements to popular free tools like Software Update Services and the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer. But admins will be on their own in defending against ever-emboldened hackers, whose exploits will penetrate deeper into applications such as IIS, Exchange, DNS, Active Directory -- all the way down to users' desktops.

There's no sport in predicting whether Longhorn will make an appearance in beta form next year. It won't. But enterprises will get a preview of what's to come midyear in the next XP service pack. The pack is reputed to be the halfway point from here to there.

What will take form, at least on the edges of the radar screen, is a maturing of the Windows management portfolio. Keep an eye on how the 2004 version of Microsoft Operations Manager integrates with SMS 2003, and pay close attention to chief executive Steve Ballmer when he headlines the Microsoft Management Summit in March. On the third-party front, it will be interesting to see where systems management vendor Altiris Inc. takes software packaging toolmaker Wise Solutions Inc. after the Wise acquisition by Altiris is finalized.

Another corporate coupling worth watching is Novell Inc.'s proposed acquisition of SuSE Linux AG. Though the analyst community today views Linux as more of a server-level threat to Unix than it is to Windows, don't count Linux out at the desktop just yet. Novell, which also bought Ximian last year, is a feisty challenger with some long-standing ties to enterprise IT.


Tip: To upgrade or not? NT users consider their options

Article: Exchange 5.5 users get one more year of support

Article: Altiris acquires Wise Solutions

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