NT Tug-of-War -- Are NT's new features worth NT's new price?
By Tom Henderson
Is Windows NT 4.0 for you? I give NT 4.0 a qualified thumbs up, with one caveat: I don't consider the new NT to be version 4.0 at all.
I'll explain what I mean by that later in this column. But first, a bit about NT's new pricing model. In addition to paying a server upgrade charge, NT Server 3.51 customers will pay a $15 upgrade fee for each client that accesses an NT 4.0 server. That's a cool $15,000 for a 1,000-PC network. (For complete NT pricing details, see John D. Ruley's column in this section.)
These economics also affect my boss. Like many seasoned entrepreneurs, he's been known to stretch a penny into copper wire, and does not like the thought of another operating system to learn. Just three years ago, his opinion of Windows was unprintable-mostly because of the incredible platform upgrades it would have required to use Windows across his burgeoning enterprise. "Use DOS!" was his reply when I showed him some of the slicker points of Windows 3.1.
Today, that enterprise is nearly four times as large, and is finally standardized on Windows. My boss is even using Windows 95 on his notebook. Like the rare adult who can set a VCR clock, he gets very jazzed each time he makes something work under Win95, and will spend time gleefully showing you each keystroke and mouse poke that he has learned. He'd be a genuine computer buff if he weren't chained to making his company a lean, mean communications machine.
But not everyone is a Win95 fan here, and the debate has started about whether to bypass it for NT Workstation.
After a long examination, I've concluded that NT Workstation 4.0 isn't really version 4.0 at all. It's merely NT 3.51 with a new Windows 95-style interface, lots of Internet gadgets and an incredibly simple installation (unless you're upgrading from Win95). NT Workstation 4.0 is largely stable, but more the accumulation and maturation of earlier NT releases than the whole new ball game suggested by its version 4.0 label. Hence, I consider it more like a version 3.75.
Many observers also consider NT Workstation 4.0 the OS/2 that IBM and Microsoft dreamed about seven years ago. IBM's version manifests itself as OS/2 Warp Connect.
The subject of using NT Workstation came up at a recent technology committee meeting here.
One committee member has Windows 3.1 adorning his desktop. He considers Windows 95 a compromise; prettier and capable of 32-bit speeds, but a compromise. It took a long time for him (and the rest of the planet) to stabilize 16-bit Windows, and he doesn't want to storm to Windows 95. Instead, his techno-nose sniffed the advantages in a future move to NT Workstation.
He has a convincing argument. For one, Windows 95 and NT Workstation are known to have incompatible registries, so upgrading from Win95 to NT Workstation would require reinstalling most of his software. One major concern about NT Workstation 3.5x: Its graphics are known to be muddy and slow. He hoped NT 4.0 would address this issue-and he was right on target. In other words, NT 4.0 is what he's been waiting for.
He'll get his wish to use NT as dozens of vendors have announced a flood of hardware and software that supports NT 4.0. Now, this manager is confident that one day soon he'll back up his data files, kiss Windows 3.1x goodbye and start anew with NT Workstation 4.0.
I'm convinced that thousands of administrators and IS planners feel the same way. I've seen their scars from the Windows 3.1x stabilization wars. Only now is Win16 stable enough for PC administrators to turn off their pagers at night and on long weekends. Many fear that a move to Windows 95-a major upgrade-would mean turning those pagers back on indefinitely.
If-in my mind-NT Workstation 4.0 is actually version 3.75, then NT Server 4.0 is more like version 3.99. That's because NT Server has all of NT Workstation's features, and then some.
My OS/2 Warp contacts want to call NT Server 4.0 something else: LAN Manager 5.0, but it's so much more than that. LAN Manager, Microsoft's old network operating system, offered file and print services and little else. Much has changed with the advent of NT, which boasts file, print, application, and Internet/intranet services.
The new NT Server also includes vastly enhanced network configuration and TCP/IP services. Web, ftp and gopher services are also solid. Although NT Server 4.0 doesn't support the bootp protocol (a failure of Winsock), it does boast DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) pass-through services. This allows downstream network clients and hosts to be correctly configured for DHCP's TCP/IP address-rendering capabilities. My prayers were answered.
All of the NT Workstation 4.0 qualities are built into NT Server. Thus, there's once again a single UI across all 32-bit Windows. NT Server 4.0 is also faster than previous editions (though the performance improvement only becomes noticeable on a robust Pentium or Alpha platform).
If you've used NT 3.5x and have an understanding of the Win95 user interface, you know enough to install NT Server 4.0. In-place upgrades of NT Server go surprisingly well. All of my favorite Compaq drivers for NT 3.5x worked correctly under version 4.0; your mileage will vary.
Most of the mundane administration tasks now have Wizards that prevent EAR (Early Administrator Retirement). The Wizards hold your hand through most every process. An MS-DOS window is still available for command-line addicts and batch-file maniacs; I'm both.
On my first day with the production release of NT Server 4.0, I tested processor utilization with three Compaq NetFlex/3 Ethernet 100BaseTX cards running at full bore through a Standard Microsystems Corp. (SMC) 100BaseTX Ethernet Switch. I wrote a simple program that yanked 200MB files from NT Server to networked workstations. The server peaked at 44 percent utilization, with an average of about 20 percent. In this same example under NT 3.5x, processor utilization hit 85 percent, then began to thrash. In other words, NT Server 4.0 is more tightly written than NT 3.5x.
The feature Microsoft touts most in NT Server 4.0 is the Internet Information Server 2.0 (IIS). The documentation for its setup and use are in HTML format, and a raft of sample files are included. You can use Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator or Frontier CyberSearch to navigate NT Server over the Web. Also impressive is Microsoft's ISAPI (Internet Services API), which connects IIS to Microsoft's SQL Server database in just a few minutes.
Despite the advances in both looks and functionality, NT Server 4.0 still suffers from at least one big problem. It's called Cairo (the code-name for next year's NT upgrade). For quite some time, fence sitters have been waiting for a reason to add NT Server to their networks, or convert fully to an NT network. The economics of upgrading to NT Server 4.0, coupled with the quiet product launch and lack of feature pounding by Microsoft, could keep many people on that fence. That's too bad. NT Server 4.0 isn't a NetWare killer, but there's enough in it to make this new NT worth a strong look.
Microsoft has released an interesting CD-ROM called NT Exchange Server 4.0 Service Pack 2. It's a mandatory update for anyone using either Exchange Server or Client. The contents are too large for even a high-speed Web download.
After installing it, I noticed that Exchange Client loads in a mere five seconds on my Compaq Pentium notebook, down from an abysmal 23 seconds. The CD is also crammed with additional Forms samples, as well as the production Exchange Client for Apple Macintosh. By the way, Exchange Client and Server won't work on NT 4.0 without this new Exchange service pack. For more information, check http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/.
Contributing Editor Tom Henderson is vice president of engineering for Indianapolis-based Unitel. Contact Tom in the "Enterprise Administrator" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe. Click Here to find the e-mail IDs for our editors, who can put you in touch with this author.