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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Will Windows XP be greeted with a yell or a yelp, or maybe just a yawn, when the next generation of the world’s dominant computer-operating system rolls out later this year? While the new generation of Windows promises to be the most evolutionary since Windows 95, veterans of the Microsoft scene are advising waiting for the dust to settle before deciding whether to make the plunge. “Having been on the bleeding edge for a long time, writing applications for everything all the way up to Windows NT, 2000 and SQL servers, I can tell you to wait a bit for the bugs to get worked out,” says Kai Ravnborg, president of CU Solutions Inc. (www.cusolutions.com), a provider of core-processing software based in Fort Mill, S.C. “I’m a big fan, but having said that, I don’t want to run Version 1 of anything from Microsoft,” he says. The consumer market is going to see a huge splash and tons of advertising, but Ravnborg, who currently counts 185 credit union clients, sees his industry moving much slower. They have boards to answer to, and existing investments in their current systems, which usually are working just fine. There’s also the fact that most large credit unions only use Windows at the front end, with UNIX-based proprietary systems often providing the core-processing power. Windows XP is built on the Windows 2000 platform and promises to be more stable than their crash-prone predecessors. It also boasts a panoply of user-interface improvements aimed at consolidating and simplifying simple and repetitive tasks. But along with that comes Microsoft’s much-talked-about effort to better police the use of its software, including a big change in the registration system. Called Microsoft Product Activation, it will allow each Windows XP license to be used only once at a time, using a CD key code that will give you 30 days to register, by phone or Internet, before the software shuts down. Ravnborg says he understands why the software giant is doing it, to protect its franchise. He also says it’s really just an inconvenience, not a hindrance, but concedes that the new registration requirements are causing a lot of negative talk. But just how much of a buzz Windows XP overall is generating in credit union land is a matter for speculation. “I just returned from a vendors conference at the NCUA and the subject never came up,” Ravnborg says. “You’d kind of think that as concerned as NCUA was with the Y2K date rollover, that they’d be concerned about the possibilities of problems with this, but it never even came up.” The wait-and-see attitude also is reflected in this comment from Dan Sanders, chief technology officer at VIFI, an Indianapolis-based provider of high-tech solutions to credit unions: “The product is scheduled to launch in the Q4 of this year, so it’s a little early to tell the effect Windows XP will have. We are, however, in the process of evaluating and will continue to evaluate the product for possible migration with our enterprise.” That non-committal attitude is not shared by Ravnborg, who has been developing Windows-based core processing solutions for about a decade. “I’m excited about it myself,” he says of Windows XP. “Despite all the rumors and misinformation, it’s nothing to be afraid of.” He says his experience with beta versions shows XP to indeed be more stable, as well as having a number of nice features. “That includes components like networking solutions installing much easier, a built-in limited firewall, and an event viewer that you normally only see on networks, not individual PC’s,” Ravnborg says. “It also doesn’t require re-booting whenever you install a new service, which 95 and 98 machines often do.” Running XP requires at least a 300 MHz processor, 128 megs of RAM and a 2-gig hard disk. That’s not too demanding in today’s computer market, where machines with far more capabilities than that can be had for less than $1,000. While many users will be waiting to make the move, satisfied with their current hardware and software solutions, they need to be aware that there’s a fundamental change in the new Windows that can affect users of older systems. Ravnborg says DOS-based systems, including Windows 3.1, 95 and 98, are likely to be orphaned by systems vendors, including his own, in the coming years, and that hardware to run those older systems could become scarce even more quickly. That’s something the legions of small credit unions running on one or two or a handful of PC’s need to be aware of, he thinks. (Ravnborg says about 50 of his clients are still running pre-Windows DOS systems.) He also sees the new XP’s introduction as a sign of things to come. “We’re seeing more and more vendors starting to port their software over to the Windows environment,” Ravnborg says. “XP will probably cement that happening, but I can tell you, it’s hard work. “It took us a couple years to write our Windows package. You have to write it from scratch. You can’t just take DOS- or UNIX-based code and do a quick conversion. Windows is object-oriented and a totally different paradigm. “You can’t just do it without investing a lot of time and money, and a lot of vendors aren’t willing or able to put those resources to it, but sooner or later they’ll have to migrate over.” Of course, the long-time Windows advocate says with a chuckle, “there are a lot of UNIX vendors out there who don’t agree with me.” – [email protected]

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