Windows 2000 release up in the air

Questions continue to swirl around Microsoft's monolithic Windows 2000 operating system, with speculation over the launch date running rampant as the company pulled yet another feature from the operating system.

In a keynote address at the Gartner IT Symposium in Orlando, Florida, last week, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer remained vague about the delivery of Windows 2000, saying only that it would ship sometime in the next several months.

A Microsoft software partner familiar with Microsoft's plans said the launch has been pushed back to February 2000, with widespread availability as late as April 2000.

On Monday, two other sources said Microsoft planned to release Windows 2000 to manufacturing in January. That would jibe with earlier reports, which stated that Microsoft's marketing machine wanted to avoid conflicts with year-2000 coverage. It also reflects the complexity of building the next-generation Windows NT client/server operating system.

"This is very reliable and set in stone," said one source, who requested anonymity.

A report on betanews.com indicated that Release Candidate 3 (RC3) of Windows 2000 would be finished on November 10, a week before the giant Comdex trade show, where Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates will kick off the proceedings with a November 14 keynote speech.

Nevertheless, other sources cautioned that talk of further delays might be premature, noting that Ballmer's assertions at the Gartner conference shouldn't be taken as a signal that the schedule has changed.

In fact, one source said officials at Microsoft are still targeting the start of Comdex for the release to manufacturers, with shrink-wrapped packages of the OS ready to hit the shelves by the end of 1999.

While the official launch date remains in question, one thing that is for certain about the final version of Windows 2000 is that it no longer includes Microsoft's in-memory database technology, which is designed to provide an extra level of cache-to-speed interactions between the OS and stored data.

While Karan Khanna, the lead product manager for Windows 2000 at Microsoft, explained away the feature's exclusion by pointing to SQL Server 7.0's caching capabilities as sufficient for most users, thereby obviating the need for the in-memory database, some feel the omission could leave a hole in Windows 2000's functionality.

"Unless they've formulated a new strategy for the database, structurally [removing] it doesn't make a whole lot of sense," said Brandon Thompson, an analyst at the Yankee Group, in Boston.

Jim Groff, the CEO of TimesTen, an in-memory database vendor, agreed, noting that his company has seen an increase in customer demand for the enhanced database performance provided by this technology.

One possible option for Microsoft now, according to both Groff and Microsoft's Khanna, is to develop and sell the technology as a separate product sometime down the road. However, Khanna would not commit to any plans, saying only that the company has gone back to the drawing board with the technology.

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