By the time you read this column, Microsoft should have issued at least one release candidate (RC) build of Windows XP (formerly code-named Whistler, XP is the new version of Windows 2000 Professional). The OS is moving toward its October general release, and if you've been thinking about deploying Windows 2000 in your enterprise or are in the middle of a Win2K rollout, the availability of XP has undoubtedly raised questions for you. Before you start worrying about whether you should scuttle your Win2K rollout and wait for XP, let me give you my perspective.
Stay the Course
If you're already scheduling a Win2K rollout for this year, stick with your plans—don't let the news about XP sidetrack you. Yes, XP will eventually replace Win2K on the desktop, and the Windows 2002 (formerly Whistler) server versions will replace Win2K Server. But especially for business users of Win2K Pro, XP's enhancements are relatively minor, though exciting, and XP will integrate nicely with an existing Win2K environment. For example, Win2K users will appreciate the graphical niceties in the XP UI, and because XP works similarly to Win2K (e.g., XP retains the Start menu and taskbar), your users won't require specific XP training. You can even disable XP's UI and revert to the Win2K UI. I advise you to integrate XP into your Win2K environments as new machines arrive with XP preinstalled.
On the server, the situation is similar. Windows 2002 server versions will offer subtle improvements and the most frequently requested changes from Win2K customers, resulting in an Active Directory (AD) environment that should meet the needs of most enterprises. Upgrading from Win2K Server to a Windows 2002 server should be relatively painless and nothing like the humongous upgrade from Windows NT 4.0 to Win2K. If you're already planning to roll out Win2K Server this year, Windows 2002 servers include nothing that should change those plans. However, if you're holding off on deploying Win2K because of AD, examine Windows 2002. It might include fixes to the problems that are keeping you from deploying AD.
Nothing Beats Face Time
Regardless of your deployment plans, spending time with XP and, if possible, Windows 2002 before they're in general release is important. Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Universal and Professional subscribers and TechNet members had access to the beta 2 release and will likely see two RC releases as well. Close Microsoft partners will get early access to many Microsoft platform products.
If you don't fit into any of these groups, you can find other ways to log some XP mileage. For example, Microsoft is offering the XP Preview Program through its Web site. When you join the program, you'll have download or CD-ROM access to Release Candidate 2 (RC2) and RC1. The program offers an inexpensive way to at least evaluate the new UI and determine how XP Professional integrates into existing Win2K and NT 4.0 domains. If you're heading to any of the Microsoft-sponsored trade shows this year, you can expect to receive XP and Windows 2002 server code there.
If you're concerned about MCSE certification with the release of Windows 2002 and XP, don't be. Although Microsoft attempted to retire the NT 4.0 exams and certification after the release of Win2K, the company eventually extended the exam dates by 3 months. With XP, Microsoft won't retire the Win2K exams or certification. Because Windows 2002 servers, XP, and Win2K are part of the same product family, your Win2K MCSE certification won't expire with the release of XP. If you begin taking Win2K exams and want to complete your certification by taking XP exams when those become available, you can do so. You can mix and match Windows 2002, XP, and Win2K exams as your schedule and needs dictate.