I'm detecting a growing tide of discontent among the least technically literate of Microsoft product users. My Inbox has been pummeled with email from users complaining that their companies are disrupting their lives and, more important, their work as IT departments prepare to rip out functioning networks and replace them with the latest server OS from Microsoft. Many of these users are complaining because they don't understand why a change in server OS requires a change in desktop OS. The most vocal of these users are the folks who have upgraded their systems in the past year or so and don't understand why their new OS is so slow.

After following up with many of the readers who contacted me, I found a similar enterprise scenario: a moderately large network (from 250 to 750 users) running Windows NT Server 4.0 as the network OS, clients that are primarily Windows 98 Second Edition (Win98SE), and-- here's the kicker--client hardware that has been replaced within the past 18 months with technology that was cutting edge at the time of replacement. The one really curious element in the scenario is that, in every case, the new computers (Intel 1.7GHz Pentium 4 or better systems) have no more than 128MB of memory.

I realize that when you buy a couple of hundred computers, saving $100 per computer is pretty important. And I'm sure that when these new computers were specified, no one was concerned about running Win9x in 128MB of memory; for that generation OS, 128MB is an adequate amount of memory. But the common thread in the complaints I investigated is clear: Users have been upgraded to Windows XP, the migration went smoothly, all the applications and data files are where they're supposed to be, and computer performance has slowed noticeably.

The most vocal complainers are users who have been migrated from Office 97 to Office XP. Because the behavior of the Office applications has changed significantly over the years, these users feel that they have been shortchanged. It's hard to disagree with them. Running Office XP and XP Pro with 128MB of RAM is on the dark side of acceptability. The XP Pro OS and Office suite will work with 128MB of RAM, but when you try to use multiple applications at the same time--say, a spreadsheet and a Microsoft Word document--the performance hit is apparent. Add that to the disk swapping that XP loves, and you come up with annoyed users who are wondering why the hard disk light on their computer starts blinking whenever they try to do just about anything.

Memory is cheap at the moment, but the manpower required to open every user's PC case, not to mention the disruption of multiple users' workday, isn't. You need to take these costs into account when you plan network and user upgrades. Because the biggest cost is in the upgrade process itself, make sure that you don't skimp on memory: That 2GHz Pentium 4 system with 512MB of RAM had better be enough to accommodate the next generation of the OS and productivity suite.