Though they are big users of Microsoft Windows products, banks are likely to postpone installations of the company's 2000 operating system, released Thursday, until they are sure the kinks have been worked out, analysts said.
"Banks are going to be cautiously optimistic," said Annemarie Earley, research director for retail banking at Stamford, Conn.-based GartnerGroup Financial Services. "Windows 2000 is not completely industry-tested." Seventy-five percent of all banks and 61% of banks with more than $4 billion of assets already use either Windows NT or Windows 95 as their primary operating system for branch servers, according to GartnerGroup research.
Even so, upgrading to 2000 "won't happen immediately," Ms. Earley said. "Banks never go to new technology that quickly. They will want to work out the bugs."
Christopher Martin, senior vice president at Savings Bank of Manchester in Connecticut, said his bank has no immediate plan to upgrade to Windows 2000 but that it would do so in time. The bank runs its core banking software on the NT platform and uses Microsoft's Money on-line banking product.
Half the corporations responding to a recent International Data Corp. survey said they planned to adopt Windows 2000 within 12 months. About 32% said they had no plan to use Windows 2000; 9% said they already are using it; and 8% were undecided. Of the 1,022 companies responding, 86 were banks.
John Grispon, worldwide banking industry manger at Microsoft, said, "Windows 2000 is a major evolutionary step from previous services." It has "the same flavor" as Windows NT, he said, but with increased availability, reliability, and security.
Its main advantage is that it includes all the functionality an institution would require, averting the need to buy other software packages, Mr. Grispon said.
This comprehensive approach may not necessarily be an advantage, however. Microsoft is building an environment that integrates desktops with servers and requires use of its software, said Dan Kusnetzky, program director of operating environments at International Data, a technology research company in Framingham, Mass.
Companies that adopt this environment would be "locked into the Microsoft approach," he said.
Citigroup's Travelers Property Casualty Corp. has been beta testing Windows 2000 since October. Diana E. Beecher, chief information officer, said Windows 2000 "affords more features around security than NT 4.0." The product also appears more stable and robust, she said.
Security requires companies to install additional functionality, Ms. Beecher noted. "Windows 2000 takes the burden off us to develop the additional infrastructure software," she said.
Wells Fargo & Co. is moving to the Windows 2000 operating system to help it meet the diverse challenges of integrating systems in the wake of the Norwest merger, said Dustin Sauter, enterprise systems engineer at Wells Fargo Services Co.
"A major hurdle in merging two financial institutions is getting a full understanding of the newly combined environment," Mr. Sauter said. "The Windows 2000 Active Directory service will help minimize administration redundancy within our company."
The $6 billion-asset Ohio Savings Bank in Cleveland is planning to upgrade to Windows 2000 in the second half of the year. Peter Goldberg, senior vice president, said the software "provides additional functionality and better management of networks."
The cost of the upgrading is included in part of an earlier enterprise agreement, Mr. Goldberg said. The bank has been using Microsoft products since 1997, when it installed in its telephone banking centers Windows DNA, connectivity software for financial services companies.