As if the software giant's reach doesn't already extend far enough, Microsoft Corp. recently unveiled its plans to takeover the corporate computing environment by mastering greater scalability with its souped-up NT server and enterprise editions for its BackOffice product family.

Microsoft is betting it can manage banks' largest enterprise applications, supporting thousands of users and integrating their front, middle and back offices. The upshot of greater scalability with NT and BackOffice: elimination of mainframes, which would save banks tons of money.

At Scalability Day, an event sponsored by Microsoft, the equivalent of 1.1 billion ATM transactions for a 24-hour period was processed in a demonstration.

But skeptics say that banks with huge enterprise applications won't likely abandon their mainframes just yet. Nay-sayers contend that, for the purposes of the demo, the system was configured in a way that may not necessarily reflect the way banks would like to distribute their files or organize their systems. And while the new versions of NT Server, SQL Server, and BackOffice Server each demonstrated increased scalability, it remains to be seen whether Microsoft can adequately serve the enterprise level, something that analysts say is much different from Microsoft's consumer PC and corporate desktop forte. "There's a stability factor with a company that is used to giving you lots of PC software upgrades on a very hasty schedule because that's their revenue," says Gartner Group vp and research director George Weiss. "The server side is a completely different business model."

To some, the new products are not necessarily ready for prime-time; Microsoft is simply demonstrating what will later be, and is making strategic use of intuitive understanding of product to market cycle times. Says Weiss: "They tried to set user expectations well beyond the capabilities of the system, anticipating that the market will mature and ripen and, by the time users are ready to make the transition and swap out Unix for NT, that all the tools and capabilities will be there." In the interim, it's up to Microsoft's industry partners to provide enterprise banking applications for use with its suite of products, proving that the lower cost of NT is worth the switch.

But it's only a matter of time. Weiss says there is little doubt that Microsoft will get NT up to speed, successfully supplanting Unix for banks' high-end systems, and certainly mid-range systems, as early as 2001.

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