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7/96 Enterprise Windows: Enterprise View

Who Shot OS/2?

The original OS/2 is bleeding, and Windows NT is holding a smoking gun

By John D. Ruley

THAT SOUND you hear is taps playing as OS/2 begins its march toward oblivion. I don't mean OS/2 Warp; I'm referring to the original OS/2, a joint venture of Microsoft and IBM that was supposed to give desktop PCs big-system capabilities. OS/2 still had a chance to survive as long as Windows NT continued to support its user interface and HPFS (High Performance File System), but that's on its way out.

Microsoft still believed in OS/2 when NT development began. In fact, it was uncertain whether the product would be called OS/2-NT, OS/2 3.0 or Windows NT. Whatever the name, it was clear the product would support both Windows and OS/2-style user interfaces. Indeed, OS/2 support has been integral to NT (at least on Intel CPUs) from the first release.

Unfortunately, that support has been less than stellar, and the situation has deteriorated over time. NT 3.1's OS/2 support was character mode-only, and that support didn't extend to all OS/2 1.3 functions. As for OS/2 2.x, Microsoft never promised to support 32-bit OS/2 functions. And OS/2 ran only in NT versions on Intel CPUs, never on RISC platforms. Months later, a Presentation Manager add-on pack appeared that provided support for graphical OS/2 applications. By the time NT 3.5 came out, NT became a better OS/2 than Warp-at least where OS/2 1.x applications were concerned.

Microsoft isn't pulling NT's OS/2 support just yet, but it's no longer a top priority. NT 3.51 eliminated the ability to format HPFS disk partitions. The disk drivers still supported HPFS, but the format command was deliberately crippled to eliminate HPFS as a supported format. In NT 4.0, the HPFS driver is eliminated altogether. If you've been using HPFS partitions with NT, you'll have to migrate to NTFS (NT File System) if you want to use NT 4.0.

Another alternative is to take a look at IBM's new Warp Server. I refuse to say 'OS/2 Warp Server'because it has as little in common with OS/2 1.3 as NT does, but it maintains HPFS and Presentation Manager compatibility. I was unimpressed with a beta version I saw last year; but WINDOWS Magazine's Enterprise Administrator columnist Tom Henderson says the shipping version is much better. Best of all, IBM has finally found religion in supporting others' systems-even Microsoft's-so operating a mixed Warp Server and NT environment is entirely possible.

Furthermore, IBM now has a fully audited Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) 'C'database benchmark for its PC-720 server-running NT. Not the much-discussed multiprocessor version of OS/2 (for which the PC-720 was designed), but NT. Similarly, the disappearance of OS/2 for the PowerPC has led IBM to support NT on its PowerPC-based systems. Search for Windows NT and RISC at, and you'll find a Feb. 20 announcement that several models of the RS/6000 line, along with the ThinkPad Power series, now support NT. Add to that IBM's recent agreement to license the Macintosh OS from Apple Computer, and it's enough to make you wonder if Warp has any future at all.

Long Live UNIX!

OS/2 may be fading, but UNIX is showing some surprising signs of life. I'm not referring to the latest attempt to 'unify'UNIX, which is doomed to go the way of previous efforts, but rather to the amazing results Digital is getting from its proprietary 64-bit implementation on Alpha RISC platforms. Those results are so impressive that Microsoft is talking about incorporating 64-bit memory management into future versions of NT.Microsoft's recent TPC-C benchmark results are good (3,641 transactions per minute for SQL Server 6.5 running on the NT Server 4.0 beta-see for the gory details), but Digital's are nothing short of amazing-more than 13,000 transactions per minute. Why so much faster? NT is limited to addressing 4 gigabytes of RAM at a time, 2GB for the system and 2GB for each application. For enterprise database applications, that's not enough; the TPC-C benchmark builds databases in the tens of gigabytes. NT can keep only a fraction of such a database in memory. Digital's 64-bit UNIX can keep an entire database in memory, provided enough RAM is available.

But a gigabyte of RAM isn't exactly cheap. So even though 64-bit UNIX can provide a real performance advantage (and I do mean real; the Alta Vista Web search engine at com searches a 33GB database, keeping 6GB of it in RAM at all times), it's not the champ in cost-effectiveness. At this writing, Microsoft's latest TPC-C benchmark result doesn't even begin to approach Digital's, but the cost per transaction is so much lower it would actually be cheaper, in theory, to distribute a large database over several NT servers than to build one monster 64-bit UNIX machine to house it.

In practice, however, distributing such a database over multiple NT servers isn't a real option. NT still lacks the extreme high-end of enterprise features: true cluster support, storage management, a transaction monitor and per-user quotas, to name a few. All are coming. Deep Dark, my unimpeachable source, tells me Microsoft's NT cluster system, code-named Wolfpack, is already in limited beta, and in a year or two distributed NT solutions will be a reality. Today, they're not.

Does this mean I'm backing down from my enthusiasm for NT? Hardly! I think Microsoft is making the right moves for the vast majority of NT users. OS/2 support has long since ceased to matter much in my day-to-day work. From what Deep Dark says, NT will have 64-bit memory management by the time most of us need it. In the meantime, the few who must have the fastest thing possible-regardless of cost-should take a long, hard look at Digital's 64-bit UNIX.

Brilliant and bogus

This month's Brilliant award goes to Linux programmer Martin von Loewis, who has worked out enough detail on the NTFS partition format to write a Linux driver that can mount NTFS volumes. The downside of this is that any hacker with physical access to an NT system can use a Linux boot disk with Loewis' driver to gain access to data on that disk. On the positive side, by putting the source code to his driver in the public domain, Loewis has improved the understanding of NTFS. In the long run, that means you can expect better third-party software support for NTFS, especially among utilities. Look for links to Loewis' work and related topics on the WinMag Enterprise Windows Web page ( The keyword is NTFS.

This month's Bogus award goes to Microsoft. If NTFS had been properly documented in the first place, Loewis wouldn't have had to reverse-engineer it. Now that he has, and his source code is in the public domain, the hacker community will exploit this knowledge. The first result is a Windows 95 NTFS driver that allows you to boot an NT system to Windows 95 and read data off an NTFS partition regardless of its security settings (you'll find a link to that driver on the above-mentioned Web page).

Thanks to Microsoft's thoroughly bogus policy of not documenting NTFS properly, NT users are now in the worst of all possible situations. There are no disk utilities for NT (aside from Executive Software's Diskeeper defragmenter), but the hacker community now understands enough about the format to create unsecure boot disks. Does this strike anyone else as ridiculous? Thoroughly, completely and utterly bogus, Microsoft!

Book of the month

To those of you who have asked if I'm ever going to write an introductory book on NT as a companion to Networking Windows NT 3.51, here's my response: I have more than enough on my plate right now, but I will recommend one. It's Windows NT Server Step-by-Step by Brian L. Brandt and Mike Nash (Microsoft Press, 1996). Nash is Microsoft's NT Server product manager, and his involvement means this book offers very complete (if Microsoft-centric) coverage that goes beyond NT Server to explore the entire BackOffice product line. The book offers practical examples of common tasks such as setting up shared applications and managing user accounts. If you're new to NT or to networking, this is an excellent place to start.

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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