Only Microsoft could announce a new strategy for the most important family of operating systems on the planet and have it raise more questions than answers. I've gotten a lot of confused queries over the past day or so, and I thought I'd answer some of them here:
Q: This name change seems kind of sudden. How long has Microsoft known about this?
A: Microsoft has been planning to change the name of Windows NT for at least six months and has been talking about this internally for at least a year. Heck, they already have the box art completed (check out: this page for two of them). I don't believe that Northern Telecom's trademark of "NT" has anything to do with it: Rather, the desire to leverage the Windows brand name was likely the guiding force. They couldn't do it before because NT and 9x were too incompatible. I always figured the change would come with the 6.0 release of NT (when a consumer version of NT will replace Windows 98) but something made them change it early. I don't buy the logic of "NT 5.0 is such a major release, it was the obvious time." That's ridiculous, especially when you consider that the "normal" version of Windows (Windows 98) will not be upgraded at this time: That would have been the logical time to change the name.
I stand by my comment in yesterday's WinInfo: "This is what happens when you've got an army of marketing dweebs with nothing to do."
One the other hand, one could argue that the brand name "Windows" was more valuable than "NT" or "Windows NT." I like the "NT" separator, however, and reputation the NT name brought to those operating systems.
Q: I noticed that Windows Terminal Server isn't listed as one of the members of the family of Windows operating systems. What happened?
A: Windows Terminal Server has been folded into the Server (and above) version of Windows 2000 as "Windows Terminal Services." It is an option during install.
Q: Windows NT Workstation currently supports 2-way SMP (the ability to use two microprocessors) but this feature is listed as a benefit of Windows 2000 Server in the Microsoft fact sheet. Does Windows 2000 Professional (formerly NT Workstation 5.0) support 2-way SMP?
A: Good news! The official description of Windows 2000 Professional mysteriously changed today to the following: "Windows 2000 Professional will deliver the easiest Windows-based environment yet, the highest level of security, state-of-the-art features for mobile users, industrial-strength reliability and better performance (with two-way SMP) while lowering the total cost of ownership through improved manageability." (Note the addition of "with two-way SMP." I think I actually had something to do with that change, by the way.)
In other words, the answer is YES.
This does, however, introduce an interesting problem: Server, which used to support four-way SMP, is now limited to two-way SMP like Windows 2000 Professional.
Q: What will the successor to Windows 98 be called?
A: Presumably, Microsoft will simply call it "Windows 2001" (or whatever, depending on the year it is released) or Windows 2001 Personal Edition. There is no plan for a Windows 2000 product, aimed at consumers, that will replace Windows 98 in 1999.
It's worth noting here, incidentally, that only the name "NT" is gone. What was the entire 9x/NT line is now simply called "Windows" (not including current versions, which will retain their old names). This means that future versions of Windows, which will all be based on what was the NT kernel, will be known simply as Windows. The "Professional," "Server," and other suffixes are used to denote the "edition" of Windows and the year ("2000" in this case) denotes the version (we can assume that version numbers like 5.0 and 6.0 will also be used, though not in marketing literature). --
Q: So when will Windows 2000 be available?
A: Microsoft's official line is "when our customers tell us it's ready." The truth, however, is even more simple: Every product has a timeline and NT 5.0 is no different. Sometimes (rarely) Microsoft will actually announce release dates before the product is ready (as it did with IE 4.0 in 1997) but usually this is a closely-guarded secret. Also, some products (again, rarely) see their timelines extended (NT 5.0 is one example, as was Windows 95). I have to label this as (informed) opinion, but I believe that Windows NT 5--excuse me, Windows 2000--will ship when that day comes, whether it's ready or not. If needed, features will be dropped and added to a point release. On that note, here's my (opinion) answer: Windows 2000 will ship in mid 1999. We will see the Beta 3 release in January 1999 and everyone that wants it will be able to order a free (less shipping and handling) CD from the Microsoft Web site. We will be amazed at how close to production quality it is, based on Beta 2. Anyone who says we won't see Windows 2000 until the year 2000 just doesn't get it. Microsoft is releasing Office 2000 and the Windows 98 Service Pack in Q1 1999: Wouldn't that be a logical (if not early) target for Windows 2000?
Q: What about DOS compatibility? Windows NT doesn't run some of the DOS apps that run fine in Windows 95/98.
A: Believe it or not, Microsoft is actually improving the ability in Windows NT 5.0 (Windows 2000) to run DOS apps, including the VESA capabilities needed for running games(!). It's not clear right now how complete--or compatible--this will be by the time Windows 2000 ships, however.
I guess I should comment at this point that none of these answers are definitive per se: They're not the official Microsoft party line (much like the rest of WinInfo) but then that's why we're here, right? If you've got other questions about Windows 2000, please send them along and I'll try and get them in a follow-up article if there are enough of them.