Despite their ongoing legal disputes with the government, Microsoft executives have at least one reason to sleep well. Research company IDC has released a study showing that shipments of Microsoft 's Windows 2000 operating system (OS) are steadily picking up.

IDC said Microsoft's latest OS has been gaining ground on its Windows NT predecessor and should eclipse NT in sales by the end of the year. Additionally, IDC concluded that adoption rates on the new OS surpass those previously set by NT.

During the fourth quarter of this year, IDC believes shipments of Windows 2000 will outnumber those of NT by 1.7 million. IDC also predicts that Windows 2000 will make up almost 71 percent of shipments of Windows 2000 and Windows NT by the end of 2001.

"The majority of the transition to Windows 2000 is taking place now and will continue for the next 12 to 18 months," said Al Gillen, manager of IDC's system software research, in a statement.

"There are numerous reasons for this fast acceptance, including support for new hardware technologies that Windows NT Workstation 4.0 didn't offer such as universal serial bus (USB), advanced power management and plug-and-play support that really works," Gillen said.

While Windows 2000 makes headway in large enterprises, the eyes of consumers and small businesses are focussed on the launch of Microsoft’s first mainstream operating system to be based on NT code. Codenamed Whistler, the OS is due in the first half of next year.