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Joseph C. Panettieri
Joe Panettieri

Stop the NT Madness

We've all heard the sales projections and vendor rhetoric: Windows NT will someday outsell Novell NetWare on the server and Win9x on the corporate desktop. It will someday scale to the heights of UNIX, and maybe-someday in the more distant future-slaughter IBM's cash cow mainframe business.

Now for a fresh perspective: Someday, we'll all stop waiting for NT to fulfill its promise and get on with the business at hand. We'll choose the software that best solves a business need, not the software that's gotten the most glowing press, warranted or not.

Many of us-members of the press, software developers, hardware makers and end users alike-have bought into the NT mystique, sometimes to our own detriment. That collective infatuation has hurt us at times, too. I know of three prominent NetWare shops-Aetna Life and Casualty, AlliedSignal and Chevron Information Technology-that wasted precious time formulating a migration plan to Windows NT servers. In the end, each company scaled back its NT initiatives after discovering NetWare was easier to administer across distributed networks.

Don't get me wrong, I'm an unabashed NT zealot. In fact, as editor of WINDOWS Magazine's NT Enterprise Edition, I've staked my career on it. I'm convinced NT is the future of corporate computing. Already, low-cost NT/Intel workstations are banishing UNIX from the desktop. And you just can't beat NT Server as a secure, reliable and fairly inexpensive platform for running client/server applications on departmental networks.

Unfortunately, NT is being hyped for uses that simply aren't practical today. NT as a complete replacement for Novell Directory Services (NDS)? I think not. NT vs. UNIX on very high-end enterprise servers? Not today, but maybe someday (oops, there I go again)

Surging sales

Still, NT's momentum is picking up. Microsoft says sales of the operating system are doubling annually, but that surge could well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even the mainstream press says the future is NT, and readers don't want to be left behind. A decade ago, you never got fired for buying IBM hardware. Today, the same can be said for Microsoft software, particularly NT. That has Microsoft's rivals concerned. You might even say some competitors are blinded by the glaring NT hype. I offer Novell as Exhibit A.

Novell, the company best positioned to cash in on client/server and Internet computing, somehow missed both technology waves and drowned in NT distractions. Back in 1992, Novell commanded more than 65 percent of the server market. But instead of staying the course and enhancing NetWare, Novell rang in 1993 by buying Unix Systems Laboratories as a preemptive strike against NT.

Novell has since dumped UNIX-a product and market it never understood-and NetWare's market share has plummeted by half, to around 35 percent. The company now seeks to establish NDS as a de facto Internet standard. If Novell had maintained its networking focus from day one, rather than fall prey to the NT hype, NDS would have been a directory standard long ago.

Now for Exhibit B-otherwise known as the Apple/IBM debacle. This high-tech duo attempted to counter Microsoft with Pink, a piece of object-oriented vaporware that never saw the light of day. Instead of trying to challenge Microsoft and NT at any cost, IBM and Apple should have tapped into their own strengths by enhancing and licensing their core technologies (Mac OS, OS/2 and so on). Now it's too late.

If you haven't jumped on the NT bandwagon yet, consider your options carefully. NT could well be your best bet for departmental applications servers, corporate intranets and low-cost engineering workstations. If those scenarios don't describe your needs, perhaps there's a better choice out there-Win95, NetWare and UNIX must be good for something, considering that their combined installed base is significantly larger than NT's. The point is: Don't make a rash decision based solely on Microsoft's PR expertise.

As for me, I'll continue writing about NT for WINDOWS Magazine. Stay tuned, and I'll be sure to tell you when NT is truly a universal replacement for NetWare and UNIX.

Joseph C. Panettieri is a senior associate editor at WINDOWS Magazine, responsible for Windows NT coverage. Contact him at the addresses here.

Windows Magazine, May 1997, page 41.

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