Windoz Windows NT

Windows 2000 (NT version 5.0) replaces Windows NT 4.0. This article has not been updated for Win 2000 (to preserve its value as background material).





Windows NT is Microsoft's flagship operating system. It currently comes in two flavors, NT Workstation v4.0 and NT Advanced Server v4.0. They are absolutely identical except for a couple flag settings and the "free" extras packaged in with the server version. Oh, yes, and price. Version 5.0 is currently in development, and is so late it has been renamed Windows 2000. A yet to be named "consumer NT" will also be developed to replace the discontinued Windows95/98 line. .

See also Microsoft News for the latest NT happenings.

The Success of Windows NT Server

Windows NT Server is the fastest growing network operating system in American business today. Only Linux shows comparable growth. NT has the full weight of Microsoft's marketing machinery behind it, and Bill Gates has stated, "We're betting the farm on NT 5.0 (Windows 2000)".

All in all, Windows NT Server is a decent departmental server, though not outstanding in any way. It provides basic file and print services suitable for a small business, comes with a lot of Internet stuff most people don't use, and is manageable by a version of the familiar Windows95 user interface. Unfortunately, this reality does not sit well with Microsoft's ambitions to take over enterprise computing.

To prove NT's readiness for the enterprise, Microsoft held, in December 1997, a "Scalability Day" event to demonstrate its advanced capabilities for large installations. So pathetically obvious were the smoke and mirrors that one commentator described the event as "Scamabilty Day". Since even Microsoft's mighty marketing machine has limits, the "soon to be released" Windows NT 5.0 will be an almost complete rewrite.

So, if Windows NT is a dud, why is everyone buying it? Because everyone else is selling the hell out of it. You want to know why?

Let me extract from an article by the marketing guru in a computer dealer's magazine (Reseller Management) (he gets paid by the word, so he included a lot more words). "Don't even bother trying to sell your client's the best solution, just sell them what Microsoft is pushing. Microsoft is doing your marketing for you so its easier to sell, and you will make a lot more money selling the service, updates, add-ons and fixes needed to make it work".

That's your money the dealer is going to be making a lot more of.

Magazines have been instrumental in NT's success. Microsoft's huge advertising revenue, massive PR budget, and the way they curry favor among magazine staff and writers assures NT of favored treatment in comparative reviews. Example: InfoWorld ran a comparative review of enterprise database servers. The tests were halted at the point where NT Server reached saturation at 100% CPU usage, even though the other servers might be at as little as 20% usage. They then declared NT the winner because it offered better cost/performance with these light loads. It's like comparing a Yugo to an 18-wheeler avoiding any conditions the Yugo can't meet. It's faster from 0 to 60, cheaper, and uses less fuel, but it really wouldn't do so well tested with a 25 ton load.

Windows NT Server incorporates Microsoft Networking, based on IBM's peer-to-peer PC-Net. Microsoft Networking is weak compared to competitors like NetWare, and even to IBM's OS/2 implementation of PC-Net, but is flexible and adequate for small installations. It becomes completely unmanageable in larger installations due to absence of any coherent directory services comparable to Novell's NDS or Banyon's StreetTalk. NT 5.0 will have directory services called "Active Directory", but Microsoft has already admitted Active Directory will have severe limitations. These limitations are, of course, being presented as "important features". (Index)

Windows NT Workstation

Windows NT Workstation is absolutely identical to Windows NT Server except for a couple of configuration flags. NT Workstation has not been a real hot seller yet, but some corporations have standardized on it because of problems with Windows95/98 and because Microsoft encourages migration (NT costs more than Win95/98). Companies that have standardized on NT have even loaded it on all their notebook computers, which is a struggle because Microsoft didn't really consider notebooks in the design of NT.

The move to Windows NT Workstation is now accelerating since the release of Cult of the Dead Cow's Back Orifice allowing takeover of whole networks through network connected Win95/98 workstations.

Win NT Workstation runs much, but by no means all, Windows95/98 software. It's compatibility with Windows 3.1 software is not as good, and it runs DOS software very poorly. NT Workstation's hardware compatibility is much more restricted than Windows95/98 (more like OS/2), but its stability and security compared to Windows95/98 may make it worth the hassle for your company.

NT Workstation is still subject to "DLL Hell". registry corruption and other ailments common to all versions of Windows, so you still have to be careful what software you load in what order and how you remove software you no longer want. (Index)

Microsoft Applications Requiring NT Server

Microsoft's objective is to sell Windows NT Server to everyone who can be convinced, and force it on everyone who can't. To this end they have created a number of key server based applications that require NT Server. They won't even run on SAMBA servers. AT&T and Bristol Technologies were developing products that would enable these applications to run on Unix servers, but Microsoft has bought out AT&T's project (AT&T sued) and is attempting to crush Bristol (Bristol sued and that case is in court now).

NT Server Only applications are:

  • Microsoft Back Office - server support for Microsoft Office
  • Microsoft Exchange - enterprise email
  • Microsoft Internet Information Server - Web server
  • Microsoft SQL Server - database server
Of course, other vendors provide similar software running on other platforms, some of which is distinctly superior to Microsoft's (DB/2, Oracle, Informix, Netscape, Apache (free), Lotus Notes, etc.).

Companies that have become committed to one or more of the Microsoft applications, but found NT too weak or too unstable for their network, run each Microsoft application on a separate server (as Microsoft recommends) and run more critical parts of their business (database, file servers, print servers, communications, etc.) on Linux, Unix, NetWare, OS/2 or AS/400 servers. (Index)

The Low Cost of Windows NT

Microsoft is very proud that Windows NT Server is now outselling Unix. This is not surprising, as it takes about 12 NT Servers to equal the performance of a single Sun Enterprise server. That's 12 sales to one right there.

Microsoft continuously boasts that NT Server runs on inexpensive Intel based PCs, not like those high cost Unix boxes. They fail to mention that the Unix box supports 200 users and the NT Server supports 20.

Microsoft claims NT Server is fully scalable to even the most demanding enterprise levels, able to replace costly IBM mainframes, but nobody has successfully demonstrated this in real life. Microsoft runs their enterprise on IBM AS/400s.

Microsoft makes many other claims for NT's performance, scalability, stability and cost that are misleading, true only under highly unlikely conditions, or are just plain untrue.

So who believes all these cost saving claims?


Bosses just eat it up - they love the promises of huge cost savings, however unrealistic - they love to associate themselves with Microsoft's power and success - and they love to be wined, dined and golfed by Microsoft's sales department. That's how Windows NT gets sold. Top management then decrees a conversion to NT, and waits for the cost savings to show up.

In cases where NetWare or Unix has been replaced by Windows NT, companies have found they need about three times the number of servers and about three times the support staff to provide the same services they provided before. Cost savings? Not in this lifetime.

Some desperate IS departments have replaced NT with Linux/SAMBA on the sly just so they could keep the network alive within budget. One "all NT" company has been reported to have a single NT server acting as a gateway to management users. All the other servers are Linux, running a GUI that makes the screens look identical to Windows NT screens. (Index)

Origins of Windows NT

"It's the only from-scratch commercial operating system that has been developed in the last decade." This statement was made by Bill Gates at a recent Gartner Group confab in Florida (right after being hissed by high level corporate IT execs for claiming to have "innovated" DOS, a product Microsoft bought). This statement is just as untrue.

When IBM and Microsoft broke up they were in the middle of developing the second version of OS/2, and both had rights to the code. IBM threatened to sue if Microsoft used the OS/2 name, so they renamed it "Windows NT". Microsoft, lacking required skills to finish a real operating system on their own, then hired key programmers away from troubled DEC (Digital Equipment Crop.) to oversee NT's completion.

NT maintained OS/2 compatibility until version 4.0 because Microsoft's LAN Manager networking (closely related to IBM's LAN Server) was an OS/2 application. With NT 4.0 LANMan was "integrated" into NT, and other measures were taken to reduce compatibility with the real OS/2.

The very first version of Windows NT was version 3.1. Microsoft said this was "to avoid confusion". More likely it was a response to the commonly held belief that no Microsoft product works right until version 3.1.

Version 3.5 (actually a major bug fix of version 3.1) of NT Server with SP (Service Pack) 3 was certified by the government at Orange Book level C2 security. This certification was only valid if there was no network card in the computer. Some server - can't be attached to a network. No other version of NT has been C2 certified, and it is unlikely, due to changes in programming, that any other version can be certified, but Microsoft continues to promote NT as a "C2 certified operating system".

Version 4.0, the current version, has programming changes aimed at improving the sluggish performance of 3.x. Unfortunately, these changes have made NT less stable. While 3.x could run without rebooting for months at a time, NT 4. 0 seldom runs for more than a couple of weeks. Many shops report having to reboot every few days, and reload the operating system completely twice a year. Version 4.0 contains about 12 million lines of code, up from 8 million in version 3.x. (Index)

Windows 2000 - the next version

The next release of Windows NT was to have been version 5.0. It has been renamed Windows 2000 to obscure the fact that it is years late, and may not include features promised for NT v5.0. Microsoft also want to put a stop to comparisons of NT 5.0 vs NetWare 5.0 (NetWare 5.0 has been shipping for some time and is getting very good reviews for features Microsoft hasn't been able to get to work in NT).

"NT 5.0 fixes over 30,000 bugs in NT 4.0" - Bill Gates. Deficiencies of version 4.0 have forced an almost complete rewrite, so 5.0 will be over 85% new code. Over 40 million lines of new code (compare to 12 million lines and 30,000 bugs for 4.0). This largely untested product will be marketed against products with 20 to 30 years of careful refinement under their belts. Will marketing once again prevail against all reason?

Many industry watchers expect Windows 2000's release to be a major disaster, especially if it is rolled out before it is ready, which now seems probable. Microsoft is very anxious to halt the momentum being built up by Novell with NetWare 5.0 and NDS (Novell Directory Services). The have already arranged for major PC makers to ship computers with Windows 2000 Beta-3 preloaded as if it were a production operating system. (Index)

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