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Pending release of Windows 2000 will hasten thin-client decisions

February 1, 2000
Web posted at: 8:48 a.m. EST (1348 GMT)

by Dan Briody and Bob Trott


(IDG) -- Next Month's release of Windows 2000 will prompt companies to make critical decisions about the future of their desktop strategies and computing architectures.

As users decide whether to go through the expense and aggravation of upgrading their desktop PCs to make them suitable for Windows 2000 Professional, thin-client vendors are using the opportunity to press their argument for abandoning the "fat" client model.

Citrix, for example, next month will announce that it has integrated Project Charlotte, a Web-based version of its Program Neighborhood, with its MetaFrame for Windows 2000 and Windows Terminal Server products. Charlotte will give users access to any application without requiring HTML, scripting, Java, or other Internet means of delivering applications.
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With the trend toward centralized computing, the idea of upgrading desktops for Windows 2000 is giving IT departments pause for thought.

"It looks to me that an awful lot of people are going to have to upgrade or replace their [desktop] systems to support Windows 2000, and why would you upgrade the machine to a heavier OS when the trend is ... [to move] things to servers?" said Dan Kuznetsky, an analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass.

Rob Enderle, vice president at Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, Calif., said older systems are particularly vulnerable to the need for upgrades.

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"Windows 2000 will have problems with about 15 percent of [existing] machines," Enderle added.

However, one user said figures at his company are higher than that.

"We plan 33 percent replacements, and ... there will be some that need memory or BIOS," said Brian Jaffe, a New York IT director who has an all-Windows 9x shop.

IDC estimates that at the end of 1999, the installed base of Windows 9x was 182 million, and only 28.1 million for Windows NT. Those figures, compared to 138 million for Windows 9x and 17.2 million for Windows NT at the end of 1998, show that Windows 9x should stay relevant.

But for large corporations with less powerful machines running Windows 9x, there is another option: Using Windows 2000 on the server and converting the existing desktops into semi-thin clients.

In addition, the consensus that most IT shops will wait as much as a year and a half to adopt Windows 2000 will give these Web-based applications time to take hold.

"Our estimation of how Windows 2000 will be adopted is fairly slow," Kuznetsky said. "While that trend is going on, we [also] see the growth in Web-oriented applications, and as they move in that direction, the tie to Windows 2000 is lessened."

According to the Giga Information Group, installing or upgrading to Windows 2000 Professional will cost from $970 to $1,640 per desktop system. Installing or upgrading servers will run a company approximately $107 per client, based on a 5,000-user network, Giga reasoned.

That price, Enderle said, is worth it when the potential benefits are considered. Other issues factor in, Enderle said, such as businesses that are on a two-or three-year hardware replacement cycle.

"We know customers are buying new hardware [on a regular basis]," said Craig Beilinson, lead product manager for Windows 2000 at Microsoft. "Customers recycle about one-third [of their hardware] each year. That's a very sure way to migrate over to the desktop."

But some analysts feel the momentum is shifting from fat clients.

"The argument in favor of thin clients gets better all the time," said Roger Kay, PC analyst at IDC.

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