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Corporate users cool to Windows XP

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Microsoft and its partners are plotting a $1 billion marketing blitz for the Windows XP desktop operating system, which will be launched Oct. 25. But their pitches will need to be extremely persuasive to sway corporate users.

A Computerworld survey of 200 IT managers and decision-makers shows that more than half (52.5%) don't intend to migrate to the new operating system. Another 25% said they're undecided.

The chief reason? They're in the process of migrating to Windows 2000. The No. 2 and No. 3 reasons cited by 155 IT managers who either don't plan to migrate or don't know if they will move to Windows XP were "no need for new features" and "cost," respectively.

"I think a lot of people got off to a slow start with Windows 2000, and XP came along too quick," said David Meyer, a senior architect at Johnson Controls in Milwaukee. His company is still migrating its roughly 40,000 users to Windows 2000.

Other than ease-of-use features, his IT staffers don't see any "considerable differences" between Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP Professional, Meyer said. "There's still some debate whether we should switch gears from Windows 2000 to Windows XP," he added.

"Budgets are tight right now. If you don't have to have it, you don't buy it," said John Tegeler, MIS director for the venture technologies division of Banks Corp. The Elkhart, Ind.-based steel products manufacturer has a 50/50 split of Windows 98 and Windows 2000 on its PCs.

A senior computer specialist at a large university in the West said that some departments have migrated to Windows 2000 and others have barely started.

"From what I can tell, there's not really any compelling reason to want to undertake the task to go from Windows 2000 to XP," he said. "There doesn't appear to be any additional value."

Microsoft insists that view will change.

"One of the reasons people aren't aware of [XP's benefits] now is because we haven't kicked off our marketing campaign," said Microsoft product manager Charmaine Gravning. She added that special hardware deals are also in the offing.

The predominant operating systems in use among corporate users are the aging Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0, Gravning said, adding that companies stand to benefit greatly from a migration to XP.

Gravning said that even in tough economic times, some users will be compelled to upgrade to gain the benefits of improved reliability, remote assistance (whereby an IT manager can take control of a remote user's desktop), a remote desktop feature (which lets users access their familiar office desktops from any location), and enhanced manageability and security. Windows XP also includes real-time communications capabilities for instant messaging not only with text but also with other media, such as voice and video.

Indeed, some users are looking forward to Windows XP. Donald Van Gels, an engineering manager at Boeing's aircraft and missiles division in St. Louis, said his company "likes to stay on the leading edge" and typically moves to a new operating system within six to 10 months of its release. "It's pretty hard to sell advanced weapons systems and not have the latest software," he said.

But other companies are content to wait. A technology consultant at a financial services firm in New York said he expects his company to migrate to Windows XP for its management features - but not until 2003. "In the short term, we won't be upgrading hardware," he said. "There's a companywide freeze on doing such things."

Chris Plaisance, applications manager at Community Health Care Wausau Hospital in Wisconsin, said his company generally waits two years before bringing in new technology, so he has no imminent plans to look into Windows XP.

"It's critical in a hospital environment that our applications work, not only for patients' safety, but also federal regulations require that we don't have glitches in our applications," Plaisance said. "We try to be cutting-edge, but not bleeding-edge."

Jon Dell'Antonia, vice president of information systems at OshKosh B'Gosh, is wary of XP's hardware requirements. "We have several hundred PCs. Some would run XP today. At least half of them wouldn't. As those machines get replaced, that's the point at which we could consider it," Dell'Antonia said.

About 80% of the 700 PCs at the company's headquarters in Oshkosh, Wis., run Windows 95 or 98, and the rest run Windows NT or 2000.

Microsoft recommends a 300-MHz processor and 128MB of RAM for Windows XP. The minimum requirements are 233 MHz and 64MB. Users of Windows 2000, in contrast, need 133 MHz and 64MB of RAM.

Despite users' current coolness toward Windows XP, some industry analysts predict eventual success for the release.

"For enterprises, Microsoft's main goal at this point is to get everybody off 9x and NT 4," said Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "So just because people may not roll out hundreds of thousands [of copies of Windows XP] before the end of the year doesn't mean it's not successful."

But Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said some companies may skip XP due to the market downturn. "With recent events, projects are being focused on security and increased communications, not on new operating systems," he said.

For more enterprise computing news, visit Computerworld online. Story copyright 2001 Computerworld, Inc. All rights reserved.

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