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6/96 Enterprise Windows: Enterprise View

Looking Backward At Microsoft Optimism

By John D. Ruley

Remeber The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle? My favorite part was when Mr. Peabody would climb into his way-back machine for a trip to the past. His perspective was often hilariously funny--almost as amusing as Microsoft's reaction to the Internet. In a nutshell, Microsoft has adjusted nearly all of its development strategies to be Internet-aware, and has put Internet "tools and platforms" under the control of the same folks who brought you Windows 95. If you weren't aware that Microsoft had a reaction to the Internet, check out my report from the March Internet Professional Developers Conference (PDC), available on a link from my Web page ( or Microsoft's site (

Although I'm impressed by Microsoft's Internet technology, the hype leaves me cold. This wasn't my first Microsoft developers conference, nor was it the first time I've seen Bill Gates change his company's direction. To put this in perspective, you'll have to step into Mr. Peabody's way-back machine.

"Set the way-back to 1990, Mr. Peabody."

First, we travel southeast to Atlanta, where we witness Microsoft's debut of Windows 3.0 at Spring Comdex. Although nobody knew it at the time, from that point forward the world of PCs would head off in an entirely new direction. For starters, it put an end to the idea of OS/2 on every desktop. Shortly after Comdex, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's number-two billionaire, could be heard lamenting, "I feel like we're on a roller coaster called Windows, and all we can do is hang on for the ride."

"On to 1991, Mr. Peabody."

This stop is less familiar than the last one. We're in San Francisco, at Microsoft's first multimedia PDC. Microsoft is handing out CDs containing a special, multimedia-enhanced version of Windows 3.0 written around the now-forgotten Multimedia PC (MPC) 1.0 standard. It previews features like WAV-file audio, low-level animation (an early version of today's Direct Video) and Audio Video Interleaved (AVI) support that shows up in subsequent versions of Windows. Developers who expended effort on those features eventually got a good payback, but it took time.

You'll notice a pattern emerging here: The underlying technologies Microsoft focuses on at PDCs are almost always important, but the time frame Microsoft identifies (or implies) for those technologies to achieve broad deployment is usually a little optimistic.

"Let's move along to 1993, Mr. Peabody."

We're back in San Francisco for the 1993 PDC. Microsoft is beginning its 32-bit push, featuring Windows NT, its first 32-bit platform. In Gates' keynote address, he points out that with memory prices falling, the cost to run NT (he expects 8MB to be sufficient) is within most users' range of affordability. He also notes 32-bit 386 and 486 processors have practically replaced the 286, and with more advanced processors on the way, it's clear the future belongs to 32-bit software. His message to developers is easy to interpret: Write 32-bit Windows (Win32) code and deploy it on NT.

A few sessions discuss a technology called object linking and embedding (OLE), but its level of hype pales in comparison with that of Win32.

"Onward to the year 1994, Mr. Peabody."

We're going to Disneyland-an appropriate location for the PDC where Microsoft starts talking about Windows 95 in a big way. The message now is Win32 and OLE, with the emphasis on the latter. And because OLE programs are difficult to write, Microsoft is pushing programmers to use the new object-oriented C++ language, which is supposed to make things easier. The Win32 version Microsoft touts is a little different than the 1993 version, and the more we study it, the more different it gets. Win95 and NT are, after all, very different operating systems. In the meantime, NT comes out, requiring 12MB to run at all and 16MB or more to run well, instead of the 8MB Gates predicted (there's that optimism again!).

So, the future of Windows is Windows 95, right?

"Bring us home, Mr. Peabody."

Fast-forward to 1996, in the wake of Microsoft's Internet PDC. Neither Win32 nor OLE figure heavily in this one. No, the big buzzwords are ActiveX-where "X" can be Video, Audio, Movie or whatnot-and Component Object Model (COM). The big push is not Windows but the Internet-using ActiveX controls and COM objects to create interactive Web pages. (For details on Internet programming, see Martin Heller's article.) But what does this all mean? Is Microsoft abandoning Windows?

In a word, no. As one presenter said at the conference, "We intend to make Windows the best platform for the Internet, period." Everything indicates that's true, but the folks at Microsoft recognize a good thing when they see it, and right now words like "Internet" and "Web" provide a route to free publicity the likes of which are on par with Windows 95.

The Internet-and the Web-are becoming very important to those who use computers in business. Microsoft may be too optimistic about how quickly technologies will be deployed, but it's rarely wrong about what the major trends will be. In The Road Ahead (Viking Penguin, 1995), Gates offers this prediction:

You'll know the information highway has become part of your life when you begin to resent it if information is not available via the network. One day you'll be hunting for the repair manual for your bicycle and you'll be annoyed that the manual is a paper document that you could misplace. You'll wish it were an interactive electronic document ... always available on the network.

For me, this process has already begun. As a remote worker, I find myself relying on the Web as my first resort to find information about the technologies and products I report on-and you use for business. If two companies in a category have otherwise equal products but one vendor's product information is available on a well-designed Web page, I'm drawn to that company.

You can't get there from here

I wish the information on intranets were as easy to access as what's on the Web. Because intranets are still separate from the larger Web, you can't access the Internet from an intranet. And you can't use Web indexing services like Alta Vista, Webcrawler, Lycos or Yahoo to find information on an intranet.

Solutions to these problems are in the works. A technology called "tunneling" promises to permit secure access to private networks over the Internet via Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP). One of Microsoft's less hyped announcements at the Internet PDC was that NT 4.0 will support PPTP. It's already available in special-purpose servers from Digital. Microsoft will also bundle an automatic document indexing technology from the Cairo (object-oriented NT) project with future versions of Internet Information Server (IIS).

Automatic indexing has the potential to make intranet Web pages as searchable as the Internet. Finally, Microsoft is moving to blur the distinction between private LANs and the Internet in a major revision to the Windows 95 and Windows NT user interfaces due later this year. This will allow any shared directory to become a Web page, and will enable you to browse Internet and local content seamlessly.

Not so fast

All of these technologies are significant, but remember our tour with Mr. Peabody of past PDCs. Good things are coming, but for now it's wise to hedge your bets and make sure these technologies are solid before you deploy them. I may well have come home from 1991's multimedia PDC convinced that MPC desktops were the wave of the future, but I would have looked mighty foolish if I had gone out and bought a bunch of them.

Editor-at-Large John D. Ruley is the principal author of Networking Windows NT 3.51 (John Wiley & Sons, 1995). Contact John in the "Enterprise View" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe. To find his E-Mail ID Click Here

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