WinInfo 2000: The Year In Review (Part Three)

Welcome to Part Three of my Year 2000 retrospective. Last time, we took a look back at April, May and June 2000; now it's on to the third quarter. Thanks to reader feedback, the retrospective will be broken up into paragraphs more frequently; I had tried to stick with a "one month per paragraph" format, but the amount of events from each month made that difficult. Indeed, this retrospective was originally supposed to occupy a single article, but it quickly became obvious that a look back at 2000 would require a lot more time--and space. On to Part Three...

July began with an interesting tidbit from Microsoft: In an attempt to stop the hemorrhage of key employees, the company instituted a rewards program for its best engineers. There were some obvious choices in the first round of awards, including NT architects David Cutler, Marc Lucovsky, and Lou Perrazzoli, along with database guru Jim Gray and legendary coder Charles Simonyi. But Microsoft also chose to award Anders Hejlsberg, the creator of Borland Turbo Pascal and Delphi; Anders is the reason .NET is going to fly, as he also created the .NET framework for developers. Then Oracle suffered the loss of a key employee of its own when COO and President Raymond Lane departed; Oracle CEO simply took over Lane's responsibilities and downplayed the loss.

Microsoft re-released Internet Explorer 5.01 SP1, which promptly broke the online help system in Office 2000; I provided a fix for the problem and Microsoft later fixed the problem officially. Microsoft released the Visual Studio.NET alpha, causing some excitement in the developer community. More exciting was the news coming out of the PDC in Florida, where the company expanded on its .NET vision; the company officially revealed that it was walking away from Java and J++ at the show, but I'd been reporting on that for over a year by that point.

Windows 2000 SP1 was finally delivered in the waning days of July, two weeks after the company set up a "coming soon" page on it's Web site. "Microsoft is committed to delivering products, including service pack updates, of the highest quality," says John Frederikson, the general manager for the PC Experience Group at Microsoft. Too bad it broke compatibility with leading firewall products when it was released. Microsoft also completed Windows Media Player and IE 5.5, three weeks after shipping Windows Me with beta versions of the products.

In July, we also learned that Windows 2000/64 was "about 95 percent complete," according to Microsoft vice president Jim Ewel; Good call, Jim: The company later cancelled Windows 2000/64 in lieu of a 64-bit version of Whistler that will ship in late 2001 at the earliest. Another product that seems to be stuck in perpetual delays in Small Business Server 2000, which was announced in July, publicized in November, and is still sitting on the backburner; I think the small business market is important enough for this product to happen, but where the heck is it?

IDC stated the obvious in July when it reported that Windows dominance would continue through 2004 at least; it's nice to know I'll still have a job. For Linux backers, the news was somewhat mixed: Usage will triple, just enough to shave about 1 percent point off of Windows's market share. But Linux also surpassed Netware to become the number two server platform after Windows 2000. Microsoft released Windows 2000 Datacenter Server RC1 and MSN Messenger 3 in July. Late in the month, the company admitted that Whistler Beta 1 would be delayed until October; the company later barely hit that date. Microsoft previewed Office 10, "Tahoe," and a cool TabletPC at a financial meeting.

In the Apple world, Steve Jobs unleashed the G4 cube and some warmed over iMacs, which I correctly warned would not be enough to keep the company's momentum going. I was never so wrong about anything, however, as I was about the G4 cube, which I still drool over. Folks, I know it's expensive, but this thing is a work of art. In fact, it's the first truly elegant product to come out of Cupertino since Steve Jobs took over.

WinInfo exclusives from July: Internet Explorer 5.5 release revealed, along with the news that this version would not upgrade Outlook Express in Windows 2000; instead, you'd need to upgrade to Win2K SP1 to upgrade OE. Microsoft posted its first beta release of Whistler for technical beta testers. IE 5.x install guide added to the SuperSite in an effort to educate users about which versions upgrade which components for Windows 2000 users, something Microsoft wasn't communicating very well. After Beta News reported on the hidden "Start Panel" and "Start Page" features in Whistler, I provided some screenshots and discussed the move to Activity Center-based interfaces. A few days later, I published the secret to getting the Start Panel to display in the Preview release of Whistler; subsequent betas made this the default Start Menu. I reported that Office 10 would not be a ".NET" release at all, contrary to assertions by others that the product was going to be Office.NET 1.0. Microsoft corroborated this when president Steve Ballmer commented on the Office product family in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

As August dawned, Microsoft's Win2K SP1 release was wrecking havoc with users of personal firewalls; finger pointing ensued and Microsoft later issued a fix. Microsoft announced that Windows Me would be priced to sell at $59, a full $30 lower than normal, at least through January 2001. Intel released a 1.13 GHz Pentium III that later had to be taken off the market because of problems; as of this writing, the chip is still unavailable. The European Union launched a second antitrust investigation against Microsoft, focused on Windows 2000 Server; in late 2000, the EU would consolidate its two probes against the company into a single investigation. Microsoft began the technical beta for Office 10 and released Microsoft Reader for the PC, a ClearType-enabled eBook reader.

SQL Server 2000 was finally completed in August and then released at the .NET Enterprise Server launch in September; unlike many of Microsoft's products, SQL Server 2000 was soundly applauded for its performance and lack of bugs. Microsoft launched yet another reorganization, right on schedule; the reorg was the company's third in eighteen months. Windows 2000 Datacenter Server went Gold and Money 2001 was released. Microsoft's persistent delays providing cable companies with software for set-top boxes finally bit the company in the butt when a European cable giant became the first of many companies to snub Microsoft and go with a competitor; I later opined in Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE that it was interesting how poorly Microsoft competed in markets it doesn't dominate.

PCs based on Windows Me started shipping from major PC makers such as Dell Computer. Microsoft hit the road to promote Windows Me with a rather lame "Meet Me" tour that visited shopping malls around America. Microsoft announced that MSN would be relaunched as MSN 2001, though that still hasn't happened. And the final name of "Mars," MSN Explorer, was revealed. Microsoft discussed Office 10 features such as Smart Tags, and its speech and reliability features.

On the legal front, the DOJ and Microsoft sparred to determine who would hear the company's appeal. The DOJ (and Judge Jackson) wanted the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Microsoft's appeal, but that would have required the invocation of an infrequently used law. Microsoft wanted the case heard by the U.S. District Court of Appeals, which had been friendly to the company in the past. Microsoft eventually got its way, but it required months of waiting as the Supreme Court took its time making a decision. Over in Linuxland, things weren't looking so good. Linux stocks continued to nosedive, and then Corel CEO Michael Cowpland abruptly resigned when that company's stock hit a low around $3.

WinInfo exclusives from August: I reported that Microsoft knew about, and then ignored, the problems with personal firewalls and Windows 2000 SP1, by releasing the product with no warnings at all. According to beta testers that contacted me in early August, Microsoft refused to fix the problem despite numerous complaints during the lengthy SP1 beta, and deferred the issue to application writers such as Zone Labs, makes of ZoneAlarm. I revealed that Office 10 would be the first Microsoft product to offer a subscription mode; in November, the company publicized this feature. I also discussed the streamlined user interface and other features, and then published a preview of Office 10 on the SuperSite for Windows. I reported on a problem with Windows Media Player 7 and Adaptec EZ CD Creator; the company issued a patch just days later. Microsoft posted a new build of Whistler for beta testers. The big exclusive of August, however, was the news that Microsoft was working with an Israeli software firm to port its Windows applications to Linux. Microsoft denied the report, of course, but I have first hand knowledge of the work and reiterate the fact here; I'm not saying this is going to see the light of day, but the project was happening when I visited Israel that month.

September started with even more bad news for Microsoft, a $1 million damages award to Bristol Technology; Microsoft had apparently violated Connecticut's fair business laws. U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall found that Microsoft deliberately used deceptive business practices against the smaller company, and that these actions came from the highest levels of the company in a bid to maintain Microsoft's market power; Yikes! Microsoft released Exchange Server 2000 to manufacturing and then reported that it had deployed the product internally for its 52,000 mailboxes before releasing it. Microsoft also released a public beta of the IE 5.5 Privacy Enhancements, and the HPC 2000 platform, both of which no one noticed. IBM released the ultralight ThinkPad X series.

Microsoft released Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) without a launch event, which was kind of sad given that this is the end of the Windows 9x product line. Microsoft Group Vice President Paul Maritz became the latest in a long list of Microsoft executives to head off to greener pastures when he announced his retirement in September. Meanwhile, Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer noted that the full .NET experience was still "2 to 3 years away," which many analysts read as "4 to 5 years away."

In the dubious achievement category, Microsoft celebrated its 25th anniversary with 20,000 of its closest employees in a Dionysian event at a sports arena in Seattle; the company also released a history-altering coffee table book called, "Inside Out: Microsoft in our own words." Speaking of dubious, Jim Allchin returned to the company, refuting my guess that he was gone for good.

Penton Media completed its purchase of Duke Communications, the Loveland, Colorado-based company that publishes Windows 2000 Magazine. U.S. antitrust chief Joel Klein announced that he would be retiring; I guess beating up Microsoft was a hard act to follow. Windows Me got off to a torrid start when sales hit 250,000 units at retail during its first four days of availability. Not bad for a product that will see over 90 percent of its sales from PC bundles. Microsoft saw Interactive TV competitor Liberate steal away two of its contracts, while the Palm OS continued to dominate the PocketPC. On the good news front, the PocketPC could have sold more if the hardware makers had anticipated demand; by the end of the year, many analysts were beginning to predict a rosier future for the PocketPC.

Dell Computer unveiled its colorful new Inspiron 4000 notebook. Intel announced that the Pentium 4 would debut on October 30, just in time for Halloween; the company later delayed the launch until November. Microsoft launched its .NET Enterprise Servers with a yawn-inducing speech by the usually exciting Steve Ballmer. Headline of the month: "Colored plastics makers in shock as Apple warns of falling sales."

On the legal front, the U.S. Supreme Court finally announced that it would not take on the Microsoft case, so the appeal headed over to the U.S. District Court of Appeals instead. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said that the breakup ruling against Microsoft was necessitated by the company's "intransigence;" Jackson noted that the case could have ended at any time if Microsoft had simply fielded an adequate settlement proposal. Meanwhile, the FTC announced that it was dropping its investigation of microprocessor giant Intel, drawing interesting comparisons with the Microsoft investigation: Could these things have turned out more differently? The FTC actually lauded Intel for cooperating so fully.

WinInfo exclusives from September: I revealed the 16 languages in which Windows Me would be available at launch, while providing a list of other languages that would shortly follow. I revealed Microsoft's internal timeline for the release of Whistler, which of course has already been revised due to persistent delays; ZDNET later republished the dates without crediting me (grrr....). Microsoft began referring to Office 10 as Office 2002 internally, but the company insists that this is not the final name; in an email to testers just this week, the company said that marketing would determine the final name of the product. I revealed the existence of Office 2000 SP2, which caused some confusion as the previous patch was named SR-1; the SP2 release was later confirmed. I reported that the Whistler Beta 1 release date had slipped two weeks to October 25, while the final release had slipped to Q3 2001 (from April 2001); Microsoft finally released Whistler Beta 1 on October 31.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look back at October through December 2000 as we conclude this massive look back in Part Four of the Year 2000 retrospective. Stay tuned

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