"It's very exciting to be here today; this is a huge milestone for Microsoft and the industry," Gates said yesterday during a lavish presentation in which he was joined on stage by rock star Carlos Santana, Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart and a mock oversized notebook computer that filled almost the entire stage.
End users who run Windows 2000 on notebooks and desktop computers will enjoy new levels of stability and reliability, Gates promised, addressing core criticisms that have been leveled at previous operating system releases from Microsoft.
For businesses, the OS will provide a platform that matches the performance and scalability of popular Unix systems, but which can compete fiercely on price, he said.
As Internet becomes "the standard platform for business and communications," companies will be able to use Windows 2000 to run highly available electronic commerce sites and large databases, Gates said.
"This is a very, very rich product; it's a broad product," he said.
The Microsoft chief also played host to the first public demonstration of a beta version of Windows 2000 Datacenter, a high-end version of the OS due for release later this year, running on a 16-processor system built by Unisys.
Another demonstration involved literally hundreds of Web servers stacked high around the circumference of the auditorium, simulating a traffic flow of 1.3 billion hits a day directed at a rack of servers running Windows 2000 Advanced Server. The demonstration aimed to show how stable and scalable the new operating system is.
"We've taken a software approach to reliability and scalability that allows you to take any number of PC servers and combine them together to get a high volume of transaction support that's never been achieved before, keeping the value, choice and time to market that Windows can offer," Gates said.
Five thousand Microsoft engineers were involved in the development of the operating system, Gates said, calling Windows 2000 "a $US2 billion engineering effort" for the company. Two hundred and forty different notebooks, desktop PCs and servers installed with the new operating system are available today from manufacturers, he added.
Microsoft executives and industry analysts have called Windows 2000 the most important operating system release in the company's history. Gates said the OS will be the focus of the company's software development efforts for years to come.
Outside the auditorium in downtown San Francisco where Gates delivered his speech, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. A calypso band played on the street for hundreds of conference attendees who circled the auditorium an hour before Gates' speech began waiting to get in. Microsoft representatives on rollerblades skated in and out of parked cars, with LCD (liquid-crystal display) screens strapped to their chest proclaiming the arrival of the new OS.
Microsoft launched three versions of Windows 2000: Windows Professional, priced at $319, aimed at business desktops and notebooks, Windows Server, at $999, aimed at file, print, intranet and networking servers; and Windows Advanced Server, at $3,999, for larger servers running line-of-business and e-commerce applications. Customers upgrading from other Windows operating systems pay about half those prices.
A fourth edition of the OS, Windows Datacenter Server, is expected to be released mid-year, and is the operating system Microsoft will target at hefty servers used for OLTP (online transaction processing), data warehousing and online service providers. Prices for that OS haven't been released yet.