Summit's Davis: Microsoft server improves on Windows 2000

While Windows 2003 Server is interesting as a middleware platform, for many its potential lies in its usefulness as an operating system. For an additional perspective on the news from Redmond, Wash., and what the future might hold for the company, ADT turned to Dwight Davis, vice president and practice director at Summit Strategies, who said that the key to the new server is avoiding the mistakes of the past.

"Microsoft is walking a fine line between characterizing it [not] as 'disturbingly new' -- as was the case with [the Windows 2000 rollout] -- but still new enough that it is worth thinking seriously about upgrading [to]," said Davis.

Dwight B. Davis

"It's been a tough balancing act for Microsoft to not scare people off as the company did with Windows 2000 by characterizing it as a quantum leap beyond Windows NT, and with so many new features and so many millions of lines of new code that a lot of buyers were just immobilized by the thought of having to deal with all that new stuff," noted Davis.

"With Windows Server 2003, there is a fair amount of new functionality certainly, but it isn't as dramatic or as disconnected a leap as was the case from NT to Windows 2000," he explained. In a way, Davis added, Microsoft is trying to "have its cake and eat it, too."

While Server 2000 was a whole new beast, said Davis, 2003 is not.

"In many ways, it's fair to think of Windows Server 2003 as Windows Server 2000 done right," said Davis. "A lot of the features are just [a] fine-tuning of the features that were introduced with Windows 2000, but were very difficult to implement and tough to administer. So it's not that there's so much that is new in this, from a core perspective. It's just making what was first introduced with Windows 2000 much more accessible."

But will working well and being easier to use translate into market success? Davis says yes, so long as expectations are adjusted to reflect market conditions.

"I think it will fare reasonably well, given the dreadful economic circumstances in which it's being launched," he said. "It does have very attractive features for a number of communities of users. The most notable, for the broadest number of people, will be the scalability, reliability and performance -- the old 'ilities' [or] standby ratings that everybody's been talking about for years."

Not making the leap to the 2000 Server, Davis said, is now looking like a wise move for those who chose to stick with its predecessor for a little while longer.

"I think it's conventional wisdom, which I think is grounded in reality, that the prime market for this operating system in the early going will be the still-significant installed base of Windows NT users, who will in essence skip the Windows 2000 generation and go straight to Windows Server 2003," he said.

"And it may prove that some of those people were smarter than those that jumped into Windows 2000, because they'll get a lot of those benefits and even more benefits than Windows 2000 without perhaps the same level of pain and migration that people who went to Windows 2000 experienced," he said.

Largely absent from much of the release hoopla was mention of Linux, but Davis said that does not mean that Microsoft isn't keeping a close watch.

"Microsoft isn't yet sure that it has the formula for waging a long-term, successful battle against Linux or, more broadly, the open-source development model," he explained, while adding that the current release should put the odds a bit more in their favor. "This operating system gives them a much better product to go into battle with, and a lot of the selling points for this new operating system sound suspiciously like the selling points for Unix operating systems over the years."

New security measures in the new release should also protect the new operating system in an increasingly security-conscious world, Davis added.

"With the operating system shipping in a lockdown state, with things turned off by default, it does present a much smaller attack surface for would-be hackers or malicious code," said Davis, who was quick to add that tighter security does bring some minor tradeoffs with it.

"I think that this operating system will prove to be a pretty good one, by Microsoft standards, and arguably even by general operating system standards, from a security perspective," he said. "But it will, by dint of things being turned off, cause some administrative headaches, I think, for companies that in the past have assumed that everything would be turned on."


To read Sun evangelist Simon Phipps' less-than-glowing assessment of new releases from Microsoft, click here.