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- All change - (December 1999)
Will Windows 2000 change the whole world? Mike Thompson thinks not

Strange as it may seem to those of us who have been brought up in the world of real computing – which roughly translated means those people of certain years who remember punch cards – there are many users who have experienced nothing other than Windows NT and its desktop counterparts. Now, there’s a contentious statement right from the off – Windows NT and the world of real computing being two different animals. Ever conscious of the need not to upset too many people, especially those who can afford expensive lawyers, perhaps a slight elaboration is in order. This will also help set the scene for a look at where Windows NT might be in the coming years.

The Microsoft supporters, and no doubt Microsoft itself, will be quick to point out that Windows NT is running in the vast majority of enterprise-class organisations; a point that I will concede. However, a more relevant question is how many of these organisations are running Windows NT as their major operating system? It will come as no surprise to people that live in the real world that the majority of these enterprise-class organisations are still running their big Unix boxes and mainframes to carry out the downright critical processing.

Enter Windows 2000

This is where Windows 2000, or NT 5 as it was previously known before its makeover, enters the picture. Despite the claims by the Microsoft brigade that previous versions of NT were capable of running at the same level as Unix, there was more than a little doubt about this, and not too many CEOs seemed over keen to risk their businesses by handing control over to the NT box. Windows 2000 is a different proposition. Designed from the outset as the Unix-killer, rather than an extension of previous operating system versions; Windows 2000 is ready to take on the world. The only question remaining is whether or not the world is waiting to fight, or if already the battle for supremacy has been won and lost.

Windows has a hold on the end-user like no other operating system before it. Almost anybody who uses a computer will be faced with the Windows look-an-feel; even if they are running a specific application that is not tied into the Windows OS. Microsoft has won the hearts and minds of the end-user, and by extension is winning the corporate battle as well. In a world where brand is everything, no mater in which market you happen to operate, Microsoft is the name with which everybody wants to be associated. Just as back in the 70s and 80s, "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM", so as we enter the new millennium the excuse can always be "but it was a Microsoft product."

No fence to sit on

One of the problems when discussing Microsoft is that there appears to be no middle ground; or at least, nobody is allowed to take any sort of dispassionate view. One is either for Microsoft or against it. Say something positive, and you are accused of being a lackey of Bill Gates who has no understanding of the needs of business. Say something negative, and you are a technofreak who hates success and who has no understanding of the needs of business. In the vain hope that perhaps one person will believe that I am neither a paid lackey, nor a technofreak, and that I do have some understanding of what is required in the world of commerce, I will outline a couple of possible futures for the Windows platform.

Vision the first. The year is 2010, and the last non-Windows system in the world is finally shut down in a moving ceremony attended by heads of all the leading major corporations. There are only two minor disruptions to the ceremony: one is when a representative of the DoJ tries to hand out leaflets calling for an investigation into unfair trading, and the other more serious is when the last remaining COBOL programmer immolates himself in front of the attending dignitaries.

Vision the second. The year is 2005 and the recession caused by the collapse of the banking system, which happened when the World Bank’s NT box crashed at a most inopportune time, is starting to bite. Most nations have reverted to the barter system, and there is very little cross-border trading. In another development, it is made illegal to talk about e-business or e-commerce even in the privacy of your own home.

Fortunately, the real future is likely to be less dramatic. The history of IT and computing is seen as one of dramatic change and fast-moving advances. In many ways this is true, but it disguises a deeper truth; namely, that businesses are more cautious when it comes to putting the chips on the table. Windows 2000 will not suddenly become the Unix killer, the mainframe is not dead, and businesses will continue to evolve their systems as they have done in the past. That Windows 2000 will cause significant interest in the market is a given fact, but it will not become the defining moment