Windows XP Icon Wars & Smart Tags
The new WXP interface is causing quite a bit of controversy. Why? There is a battle for real estate going on. Companies like AOL that used to have a prime spot on the desktop with an icon that everybody knew, are being moved to a space on the new task-menu that now has two columns instead of one.
So they are screaming that they are relegated to being second class citizens and that no one will find them. More over, they fear that MS will make the MSN icons easier to find, so that they will get more ISP customers at the cost of AOL. That might be true too. Nobody but AOL understands the importance of having and keeping desktop real estate. What does that mean for us?
In companies, the thing now is that you need to decide for the old or the new interface. You can default to the existing W2K interface if you want. And I think that might be the right way to go in company environments. You have to standardize to be able to support your users.
Another point are the smart tags I talked about in the last issue. They are really XML links. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal that MS is also going to include these tags in the new IE that comes with WXP. It's currently in a beta version of WXP. What that will do? Well, you browse over to your fave home site, using the new IE. Suddenly a bunch of squiggely lines appear under some words on the pages of that site. You had not spotted those before! Well, MS has now functionality that allows them to highlight words on pages of other people's sites and point them to sites that MS either owns or favors. The upshot? They are able to pull eyeballs away from sites. That's not going to sit well, I can tell you right now. It would be a very good idea to have that feature turned off by default, and have the on-switch buried deep into the IE menus, or take it out of the final version all together.
The Positive Side Of The New MS-Licensing
You all know that I have been beating up on MS re the new licensing, but some users see some positive things as well. It's not all doom and gloom at all. ENT Mag that has stopped its dead-trees version and now only has a website and a newsletter posted an article that is worth reading. If you are one of the diehard, front-line NT/W2K system admins and subscribe to the Sunbelt sponsored NTSYSADMIN List, you will recognize the names below. I have provided a link to the ENTMag website (which is worth checking out) and a link where to subscribe to the NTSYSADMIN List as well. Thousands of your colleagues discussing topics like the one below!
"From what I've seen, it will actually result in a lower software cost if
upgrades take place every 18-24 months, but now the onus will be on
Microsoft to make it much easier -- and more beneficial -- to upgrade
Windows and Office on such a tight schedule," comments Andrew Baker, an
IT manager with insurance company and financial services organization
American Int'l Group Inc. (AIG, New York, N.Y.). A long-time administrator
of Windows NT and Windows 2000 systems, Baker acknowledges that he has
"mixed" feelings about Microsoft's proposed changes.
Under the provisions of the new plan, the software giant will heavily
promote a subscription-based licensing model that provides for, among other
things, so-called "Software Assurance" contracts that require customers to
pay operating system and application software subscription fees on an
annual basis. In addition, Microsoft will eliminate all "Version,"
"Product" and "Competitive" upgrades and also will begin selling software
directly to enterprise customers, rather than through intermediary vendors
such as resellers, services firms or systems integrators.
For his part, AIG's Baker says that subscription-based licensing plans -
especially those such as Software Assurance which encourage frequent upgrade
cycles - aren't necessarily crafted in the best interests of enterprise IT
organizations. "Companies want to get some return on their investment,
and not spend all their IT resources in constant upgrades and constant
training on the same basic software," he observes.
Microsoft has also said that it will continue to sell software the old-fashioned way - i.e., for a one-time, non-recurring fee (dubbed a "Perpetual" license). At the same time, however, the software giant confirmed that it will eliminate its enormously popular "Select Agreements," under the terms of which enterprise customers can purchase Microsoft software through maintenance contracts or by means of the now-discontinued "Version" upgrade plans. Microsoft's new Software Assurance contracts will take the place of Select Agreements.
Bonnie Miller, a network server analyst with an educational cooperative
based in Everett, Wash., confirms that the school district for which
she currently works is an existing Microsoft "Select" customer. Ironically
enough, Miller says that her school district evaluated a similar
subscription-based Microsoft program - dubbed "Microsoft Schools" - but
ultimately rejected it because of cost concerns.
"[We] came to two conclusions at the time, [the first of which was that]
this program would end up costing more after three or four years," Miller
explains, noting that schools in her district commonly use computers until
well past their normal life-cycles of three-to-five years. "It's much
more difficult for the school district to write in a yearly software
budget that may change each year [as computers are added] than to have
chunks of money spent at once for software as it was needed and as money
Unfortunately for Miller's school district and for other current Microsoft
Select shops, Software Assurance will probably constitute the only cost-effective alternative to the hefty prices that Microsoft is expected to charge even enterprise customers to purchase its software outright. Some IT managers are bracing for the worst.
"I'm certain they will initially make it much more expensive to retain a
perpetual license, and this will only fuel the belief that they're lining
their pockets at the expense of, and without regard for, their customers,"
avers AIG's Baker. "I suspect that their larger customers will still wield
enough clout to get better deals, however, and that the folks who will be
hurt the most will be the smaller shops."
At the same time, argues William Lefkovics, a systems administrator with
the AscentrA Group of Companies, a Las Vegas, Nev.-based health care provider,
the provisions of Microsoft's new subscription-based licensing plan could be
a boon to some companies, large and small alike - including his own.
"In cases where the upfront cost of moving forward to new software or operating
systems is prohibitive, the new subscription-based licensing might provide some
relief," he speculates. "We can't afford to migrate to Windows 2000 across the
board, but we might be able to enter into a subscription."
Kevin Jones, an administrator with Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI Inc., an Arlington, Va., policy research organization, says that he views Software Assurance as a kind of double-edged sword. "The bottom line is that if you plan to maintain your operating systems current at all times, then the Software Assurance program will save you considerably on costs," he explains. "However, if you do not plan to keep up with the leading edge operating systems then Software Assurance loses its value."
Jones also speculates that IT organizations which haven't yet upgraded from older versions of Windows - such as Windows 9x or Windows NT - could exploit Software Assurance to do so at very little initial cost. Unfortunately, Microsoft actually requires that IT shops that subscribe to Software Assurance must first upgrade to current versions of its operating system (Windows 2000, Windows Me) or application (Office 2000) software. This means that customers that are still running Windows 9x or Windows NT - or which have standardized on older versions of Office - must separately purchase upgrades for their software.
Software Assurance could ultimately provide some unanticipated benefits for most of Microsoft's customers - even as it turns up the heat on the software giant itself, says Roger Seielstad, a senior network administrator with Peregrine Systems Inc., an Atlanta-based consulting and software firm that specializes in infrastructure resource management.
"If the trade off for a higher cost of software acquisition and support is a
corresponding increase in the level of support from Microsoft, it's a trade off
I think will be worth making," he comments. In Seielstad's account, a maintenance and support licensing scheme like Software Assurance could force Microsoft to adopt a more "regimented schedule for releasing service packs and upgrades." As an example, Seielstad points to the software giant's spotty record on delivering Windows NT 4.0 service packs in a timely fashion - the intervals between service pack releases varied from two months (SP2) to almost a year-and-a-half (SP4). He contends that such practices won't wash with Software Assurance customers.
"Companies won't tolerate paying for a full year of support for a few hotfixes,
most of which aren't applicable to their environments. They will expect a
return on their investments," he comments. "The current licensing model doesn't
offer Microsoft the incentive to drive for high quality in existing products,
as their revenue model currently is driven by sales alone, and new products
drive sales." (grateful acknowledgements to ENT Magazine for use of their copyrighted article. See their site below)
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