NT's Retirement Opens Windows For Linux

Dec 28, 2004 (09:12 AM EST)

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Friday's demise of general support for Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0 may give alternate operating systems, such as Linux, a temporary opportunity.

Although Microsoft extended Windows NT 4.0 support an additional year to, as the Redmond, Wash.-based developer says on its NT support site, "assist customers upgrading from Windows NT Server 4.0 to the Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 families," the 12 months of grace haven't paid off, according to Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox.

"Just as many U.S. big businesses run Windows NT Server 4 today as they did 10 months ago," wrote Wilcox in a blogged briefing on the aged operating system, citing data recently collected by Jupiter.

While some companies may be running fewer NT Server 4.0 installations now than at the beginning of 2004 -- consolidating several NT servers to one running Microsoft Server 2003 is not uncommon -- there's not been a rush to move up to Windows Server 2003, something Microsoft's been counting on, and pushing. That's left a window of opportunity for other OSes to steal some of Microsoft's business. And that window may grow larger, not smaller.

"The older those [NT 4] servers get, the greater risk of migration to an operating system other than Windows Server 2003," Wilcox wrote. "The install[ed] base of Windows NT Server 4 systems [is] an opportunity for Linux vendors, even Apple with Mac OS X Server," he said.

While Linux or even Mac may be an alternative to some firms in some situations -- particularly Linux in single-use situations, such as print- or file servers -- Wilcox also expects many enterprises to essentially ignore Microsoft's nudging to upgrade.

"If a Windows NT Server is doing what's supposed to do, the cheapest thing is to let it be and continue to realize ROI [return on investment] on the original investment," Wilcox wrote. "Even in a straight Windows Server 2003 software upgrade, there are new client-access licenses to consider."

Windows NT 4.0 isn't vanishing overnight, of course, even though Microsoft is ending general support -- including security fixes -- on December 31. Paid custom support plans, for instance, remain available through 2006.

But the retirement of NT leaves Linux with a shot at least, said Wilcox. "A greater risk [of migration to Linux] doesn't equate to a massive move to Linux. But there is greater opportunity for Linux vendors while the transition lingers."