This week's UPDATE will be a bit different. I'm in Las Vegas for the Comdex show—live from the show floor (well, not really, but from my hotel a few blocks away). Windows 2000 (Win2K) is certainly a presence here, both in Microsoft's booth and in the Win2K hands-on training area, which visitors have mobbed since the show opened Monday. But the big news is off the show floor.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and President Steve Ballmer highlighted Win2K in their presentations. To get the obvious question out of the way first: They said very little about plans to deal with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) suit and Judge Jackson's findings of fact last week. However, Gates did open his keynote by asking the audience if they'd heard any good lawyer jokes lately. Ballmer gave a blunt answer to one question on the subject after his speech Monday. When asked how Microsoft would react to a judicial order to remove Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 from Win2K, Ballmer said, "We have no plans for that," and went on to note that an appellate court overturned a similar order in the Windows 98 case.

I'm sure you've read most of the obvious things by now (if not, you can see a transcript of Gates' keynote by clicking here, but I'd like to highlight two items that came as a bit of a surprise. First, in a presentation that followed Ballmer's talk Monday afternoon, Senior Vice President Jim Allchin, who called himself "the complaint department for Windows" made the startling admission that Windows NT 4.0 servers have a 4:1 variation in uptime, depending on how they're used. Allchin says that Microsoft discovered this while researching customer complaints about NT's perceived unreliability. In response, Microsoft has done considerable work to improve the quality of Win2K, including the establishment of a full-time code penetration team, more rigorous driver testing and qualification, and redesign of some services. The magnitude of the effort, as Allchin described it, makes it clear that Microsoft has gotten hard core about quality. For more information on Allchin's address, click here.

Both Ballmer and Microsoft Vice President Deborah Willingham said something that got my attention—they started talking about Win2K Professional (Win2K Pro) as more than just a business platform. Ballmer said "We haven't said enough about Win2K on the desktop. For all that we talk about Win2K on the server, the implications of a really reliable PC desktop may be even more important." He also said—as did Willingham—that Microsoft would work on improving compatibility for legacy applications, including games, and legacy hardware after the initial Win2K release.

My experience on the show floor reinforced that message. Product managers for items ranging from Creative Labs' amazing 3D Blaster Annihilator (which offers hardware 3D rendering with near-workstation performance for just $249) to Intel's digital microscope (something I'd have killed for when I was 10 years old) told me that they're working on Win2K drivers. As a Creative Labs representative said, "It would be suicide not to!"

Comdex Briefs
Microsoft announced yesterday that it had released Win2K Release Candidate 3 (RC3). It "will be distributed to a small, very specific set of technical beta testers." According to Microsoft, RC3 has no new features and focuses on final finish, performance, and quality issues. Microsoft also says that Win2K remains on track for release to manufacturing (RTM) by the end of the year and general availability next February.

Small business owners can get a complete, outsourced IT management service based on Win2K desktops from CenterBeam—with a $500 credit for each of their current PCs (which will be donated to inner-city schools). This innovative program provides small businesses with a complete system featuring name-brand PCs, DSL Internet access, and 24x7 tech support for $165 per user per-month. For more information, click here.

Ontrack Data International (http://www.ontrack.com) announced SystemSuite 2000—a set of utilities that supports NT, Win2K, and Win9x. The suite includes diagnostics, Registry repair, uninstall, a virus scanner, crash protection, zip/unzip, file management, and system update components, all of which run from an integrated UI. The product will be available from retail stores in December with a street price of $29.95.

Applica announced Applica Multimedia for Terminal Server Edition—a product that lets NT 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (TSE) users add workstations that operate at PCI bus speeds. The product also offers the option to directly connect a television display. You can drive up to 5 stations from one processor server and up to 10 from multiprocessors. The cost per seat is $249. For more information, click here.

While the folks at Visio wait for Microsoft to finish buying them out, they're selling Visio 2000 as a deployment tool for Win2K system administrators. You can use Visio 2000 to diagram Active Directory (AD) implementations, chart performance, and track the upgrade process graphically. For more information, click here.

Logic Team's Financial Agent is the first module in a planned array of business analysis software that imports data from Peachtree Accounting and Intuit Quickbooks. A proprietary expert system then examines the data, predicting cash flow problems before they occur and recommending corrective actions. It runs on Windows and NT systems. For more information, click here.

Storactive showed a technology preview of its new Livebackup 1.0 running on Win2K Server. The product will provide realtime backup, mirroring every change a user makes in any file on the network. The product already supports NT or Win9x clients and NT servers. Pricing starts at $129 per client and $5000 per server. For more information, click here.