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Microsoft's Windows 2000 client operating system is doing well for its age, a little too well it seems on corporate desktops, according to the latest figures.

Forty eight percent of PCs are still running Windows 2000 five years after it was launched and just weeks before Microsoft takes its first steps towards end-of-lifeing the operating system by finishing full-fledged support and maintenance.

Windows 2000's market share compares to 38 per cent for Windows XP, according to PC inventory and asset analysis company AssetMetrix.

Steve O'Hallran, managing director of AssetMetrix Research Labs, said Windows 2000 is doing "remarkably well".

"Windows 98 and 95 are being diffused out... 2000 is next, but it's still huge. Rather than being at 22 per cent and at the bottom of the pack, it's at 48 per cent. Windows 2000 has been retained and plays a significant role in most corporates," O'Hallran said. AssetMetrix assessed 160 companies and 60,000 PCs

Those numbers may sound like great news for customers, who seem to have jumped clear of the Microsoft operating system up-grade cycle, but there's a catch. Customers will no-longer get feature updates after June 30 because that's when Windows 2000 leaves Microsoft's mainstream support phase and moves into "extended support".

Extended support appears to rule out a full Windows 2000 Service Pack (SP) 5, a prospect that one seasoned Microsoft watcher called a disaster for end-users in terms of managing large installations of Windows PCs.

Michael Cherry, lead Windows and mobile analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said users will now install different bug fixes or use the latest security roll-up for different PCs when they need them, instead of getting everything in a single hit that can be rolled out to all Windows 2000 PCs with a full SP 5.

"That's a disaster... it will be very hard to manage tremendous variations. To keep things under control and workable, and to diagnose a problem, you have to know what's installed and what the steady state is," Cherry said.

"If I was running a large IT shop, I'd have wanted a base level I knew the product was at when the product left the support cycle."

O'Hallran has advised customers to begin evaluating their reasons for staying on Windows 2000. Unless there is a strong business justification, they should begin preparing for Longhorn, by buying new PCs that are fat enough to support expected processor, memory and graphics demands of the planned operating system.

Many organizations are beginning to hold off moving to Windows XP now that Longhorn is hovering in 2006. O'Hallran, though, said customers on volume agreements have no reason not to move to Windows XP SP 2, because they are already entitled to the client under their agreement. "There's no reason not to bother," he said.

Both O'Hallran and Cherry said Microsoft messed-up in delivering Windows XP in 2001, by making the operating system appear more tailored to consumer users than business users, with then-new multimedia features. ®

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