April 15, 1998 1:05 PM PDT

Microsoft debuts Y2K strategy

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After catching heat from its user base, Microsoft today launched its anticipated revamped Web site and strategy dedicated to the Year 2000 problem, highlighting date bugs in some of its big name products like Windows 95, Office 95, and Office 97.

The strategy and Web site sorts the Redmond, Washington-based software giant's products into five different categories based on how compliant each is. Microsoft's definition of compliance also appears on the site.

In addition, the company provides a product guide which gives the same information for its Windows, Office, Back Office, and other products, said Jason Matusow, the company's Year 2000 strategy manager.

Of the products tested, the vast majority are compliant or compliant with "minor issues" that are now documented, he said. Out of all the software giant's products only three--Access 2.0, Word for MS-DOS 5.0, and Office Professional 4.3--are not Year 2000 compliant. However, products that are compliant with "minor issues" include widely used products like Windows NT server and workstation 4.0, Windows 95, Office 4.0 Standard, and both Office 95 and 97 standard and professional editions.

The second category, compliant with "minor issues," will comprise products that have an outstanding date issue, but whose core functionality is not affected. "For example, in the old Windows for work groups 3.11 you can't set the date to be a leap year with the mouse, but with the keyboard you can," Matusow explained.

In addition, if the product guide specifies that a fix or service pack is needed for compliance, the company will provide it for free, Matusow said.

"It is a simple issue that there is no simple fix for," he told analysts and reporters today. "We have published a Year 2000 resource center on the Web to help customers," with their solutions for the Year 2000 problem.

Analysts said the effort is late in the game and marks a change in the company's expectations for Windows 98 adoption. Microsoft's Windows version 3.1 needs some adjustments to be fully Year 2000 compliant, and the company has had to issue patches to make Windows 95 Y2K ready.

"Microsoft was a little slow in getting to market with this issue," said Tom Oleson, an analyst with International Data Corporation. "My sense is they didn't understand what people wanted. They thought people would migrate to Windows 98 by 2000, but they've discovered that a lot [of companies] are happy with Windows 3.1 and don't want to migrate."

He said if a service pack or patch is needed, a product will be listed with that prerequisite under the heading.

After the compliant, and compliant with "minor issues" categories, the third rating is for those products that are not compliant, while the fourth will consist of those that are still undergoing testing. The final category will be for products Microsoft "will not test," Matusow said.

For the products that are not Year 2000 compliant, such as Word 5 for DOS, the guide explains why and gives recommended steps to take to achieve compliance. The resource center also provides information about the steps customers should take to identify and reduce their exposure to software problems related to the millennium bug.

In the initial phase of the new Web site and strategy release, Microsoft will address the Year 2000 as it affects its core products, he said. "As testing continues, we will add to the site." A home-user resource guide will be posted on the site soon, he said, though he did not say when.

Microsoft will also release a directory of tools which can provide assistance for testing, renovation of code, and compliance methodology. The company wants to direct its customers to "companies that have specific tools for specific issues," Matusow said.

Oleson said Microsoft is responding to its installed base who have been waiting for direction on this issue for sometime.

When asked why a sophisticated technology company like Microsoft, like many others in the industry, has products that were released just last year that have problems related to Year 2000, Matusow defended his company and the industry as providing products that reflect the way customers process information.

"People think and work in two digit dates. Computers think the way people work."

 

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