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Windows 2000 arrives; truth slaughtered, again.
May 2000 It’s quite scary how effective the Microsoft PR machine has become. The “official” launch of the operating system that has already started providing patches before it ships is global news, and even Jeremy Paxman (of whom more anon) gets up into a lather about it all.

Have we lost our sense of proportion, or was launch day just an example of a quiet news day when there was nothing else happening..? Perhaps Bill’s influence extends to plane hijackers, bombers and indiscreet politicians, any one of which might have pulled a neat stunt and provided an unfortunate distraction from the Main Event from Redmond.

The W2000 predecessor - Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system, had a very interesting background that’s worth recalling. It spun out of Microsoft’s soured relationship with IBM and OS/2 (remember that..?). OS/2 was originally supposed to be the OS to end all OS’s, mostly by dint of an ability to run more than one application at a time (multitasking), and did (does) indeed have a number of very fine features in terms of multitasking operation, but it was blighted by being born before its time, when the necessary minimum practical 16Mbyte of RAM cost several hundreds of pounds.

While IBM was plugging away with OS/2, it’s erstwhile “partner” Microsoft got frustrated trying to steer its agenda along with the enormously inert mass of IBM, which still had a lot of internal distraction from factions trying to prevent microcomputers from knocking too much of the market away from IBM’s historical cash cows of mainframes, minis and terminals. So Microsoft devised and developed Windows NT (remember, that originally stood for “New technology”..? Many other suggestions have been offered since) with more than a hint of the DEC mini/mainframe operating systems known as VMS – the background of one of the key NT developers.

OS/2 and NT never did have much in common, apart from an effort to run 16 bit and 32 bit Windows software “after a fashion”, and now that IBM has all but given up on OS/2, despite its widespread deployment in many heritage IBM projects (such as bank ATM systems), NT was expecting to have the Intel platform to itself for “serious” applications, where Windows’ 95/98 legendary delicacy could not be contemplated for serious industrial deployment.

However, with the realisation that OS/2 was going nowhere, IBM opted to start chortling its support for Unix, in the shape of the popular movement for Linux. Historically, IBM had tried long and hard to impose it’s own version of Unix – AIX – on the Intel market, but not surprisingly, the focus of AIX on IBM hardware has stunted its acceptance in the wide open world of the internet, and just as OS/2 lost its way, there’s every chance that AIX will have to contrive a future for itself outside all but IBM’s heartland users.

IBM is not exactly out on a limb here, with a strange alliance of business ranging form Sun to Oracle also promoting Linux as a viable server operating system. There is more than a hint that this alliance has been forced to come together to try and counter the alternative scenario of “Microsoft Uber Alles”

In other words, if IBM and Sun can’t have their own monopolies, then they will have to do their best to derail Bill Gates’ plans, even if that means the formation of unholy alliances and some one-eighty about turns. And they can usually count on the remarkably short memories of much of this market.

The bottom line is that Windows 2000, although nicely face-lifted and with a new set of bearings, is still struggling in many respects to match Unix for portability and scalability, and will have many months to go before the suspicious IT managers of the world are comfortable enough to pin their missions on it. But we were still invited to get deeply excited about all this by a hysterical PR campaign and duly frenzied media.

On the evening of the Windows 2000 launch, the event was even deemed by BBC2’s News Night programme to be worthy of the Jeremy Paxman treatment. For anyone that knows anything about the industry, this interview was a curious affair, with Paxman barking off about a total irrelevance (why MS has “intentionally” designed Windows 2000 so it will not run on Sun hardware). But Microsoft’s rather unimpressive spokesperson, Oliver Roll, was obviously floored by this madman’s line of irrelevant questioning, got flustered, and ended up at one point repeating that Windows 2000 runs on more hardware platforms than any other operating system. Excuse me..?

It’s a salutary reminder, as if one were needed, that the mass media can be off barking up the wrong tree, while their so-called “expert witness” can sit there and be completely misleading – leaving the average viewer completely misinformed. OK, so I know a bit about this lark – but it does make me wonder just how much misinformation is being poured forth by the media on subjects where I foolishly rely on them to advise me.

There has to be a better way of handling life’s increasingly more complex news issues other than giving the task to some media generalist with the ego the size of a large planet. It is interesting to see that the Internet is starting to show signs of pitching up entirely new concepts in news reporting where genuine expert comment can be applied to ensure that the Paxman factor is mitigated. Check out and see for yourselves. If only all news were to be reported this way…