by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, August 1996

It’s time again for one of my semi-regular, semi-coherent, heavily opinionated rave-outs on what’s happening in my little corner of the computer industry. This time I am covering some troubling aspects of operating systems (OSs). Remember, my motto is "Have Pulpit Will Preach!"

Windows 0.95

Yes, that’s "Zero Point Ninety-five" - the traditional designation for the pre-release (also called "Beta") version that comes out before version 1.0 is ready. That pretty much sums up my opinion of this grandly overhyped product. While I am absolutely sure that the eventual "real", working version of the product will be spectacular, I can’t justify asking my clients to risk their businesses and spend potentially huge sums of money simply to become Microsoft’s guinea pigs.

My standard offering to those who ask about switching to Windows 95 is that I will charge them by the hour for all the time it takes to iron out any incompatibilities with their current software. So far I have seen many companies test Windows 95 and decide to hold off on implementation. I’ve also seen two companies implement it - and then erase their hard disks and revert to Windows 3.11 to avoid imminent bankruptcy. I wasn’t involved in any of these "experiments", so don’t think that they failed due some lack of expertise on my part. For the two complete disasters, I called Microsoft and referred these people to Microsoft Certified Professionals working for Microsoft Authorized Solution Providers. It didn’t help.

A scary part of this is the amount of effort it took to get these referrals from Microsoft. After killing a couple of hours calling every Microsoft phone number that I could think of, I finally found the department that refers people to Solution Providers. The representative gave me the names of the three closest Providers. They were in Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Detroit!

While I often get sarcastic in my articles and speeches, I am usually able to remain reasonably civil in conversations. This time, I skirted the edges of civility. I absolutely badgered this poor woman for almost 45 minutes to keep retrying her search with different parameters until she finally gave me the names of the only five Providers she could find in Illinois. Luckily, two of them were near the companies in need of help.

Of course, I know that there are a lot more Providers in this area. I have run into more than five at various dealer association meetings. What I can’t figure out is why nobody at Microsoft could give me a straight answer about which department handles referrals. Also, once I stumbled upon the right department, why couldn’t they easily locate all of the Providers who have Windows 95 systems integration skills?

For comparison’s sake, a few years ago, a client requested a referral to a NetWare specialist for his relative in another city. That city didn’t have chapters of any of the associations that I belong to, so I called Novell at 1-800-NETWARE. Within three minutes, I was able to get a list of specialist companies to present to my client. I could have also used Novell’s faxback system or their NetWire section within CompuServe. These days, I could also use their Web site. Even if I considered Windows 95 stable, it scares me to think about installing a new operating system with no easy access to help.

Windows NT

Microsoft has declared that Windows 95 is the ultimate desktop operating system for the home environment and Windows NT is the ultimate desktop operating system for the business environment. Sadly, the very reason that NT is superior to 95 is that it has the luxury of ignoring most issues of backwards compatibility (running existing software).

If you have the ability to upgrade all of your existing applications directly to NT, then you are ready for NT right now. If you have applications that don’t have versions specifically made for NT, however, you may just want to keep the status quo - Windows 3.11. If you jump to Windows 95 (as only a tiny percentage of corporate computer users have) there is no official upgrade path. There is a standard way to move from 3.11 to 95 and from 3.11 to NT, but there is no easy way to transition from 95 to NT - and Microsoft has stated that there never will be!

The easiest decision for many is to stick with Windows 3.11 for now and, after they can test some future, more reliable version of Windows 95, decide which operating system to use. As a practical matter, even business users will eventually adopt 95 because they can’t easily abandon their existing software and NT currently has only limited support.

While I believe in NT’s future as a desktop operating system, I have never been enthusiastic about taking a desktop operating system, DOS, Windows 3.11, Windows 95, or Windows NT, sticking some extra features on top of it, and calling it a network operating system. (The same holds true for representing mainframe and midrange operating systems as network operating systems.)

The latest change in the justification arguments for NT Server have recently attracted my attention. The original argument eventually resulted in a tacit agreement that NetWare was great as a "mere" file and print server, but would never be as good as a strategic "enterprise" operating system. The answer for those, more important functions, was supposed to be Windows NT Server. The argument followed, that for the sake of compatibility and ease of management, you might as well standardize on NT Server for both types of file servers.

Since NetWare’s NDS (NetWare Directory Services) has made it preeminent in enterprise networking, a new argument has appeared. Now NT enthusiasts are conceding (at least for the moment) that NetWare rules the enterprise, but are saying that you should use NT Server for all file and print services! Huh? Did I miss something here? I remember a section of Philosophy 101 - Basic Logic, dealing with circular logic. I think that idea applies here.

The really strange thing is that there are many reports of both arguments being used within a single company! NT supporters within a company have used the first argument to implement NT servers to control the enterprise activities of their companies.

When NT becomes unmaintainable in an enterprise situation (not an uncommon occurrence), they have to switch back to NetWare for their enterprise server. Then they use the second (and contradictory) argument to justify implementing NT Server for file and print server! It would probably be better for the companies involved if their NT enthusiasts quit and went to work for companies that originally used NT Server and have never had NetWare in the first place.

As an added bonus I read an article (obviously copied almost verbatim from a Microsoft press release) announcing additions that are being made to NT Server to provide many (but not all) of the features that are already in NDS. These new features are supposed to make NT the best choice for the enterprise. The articles went on and on about how Microsoft was going to bulldoze Novell into the ground with these amazing features. They suggested that administrators would be making a big mistake if they committed to NetWare. It was only at the very end that the proposed released date was mentioned - mid-1998! That means that, assuming Microsoft releases the software according to schedule (riiiiight), you get to wait two years to get features available in NDS right now. Gee, thanks, I needed that!

I know that some people will accuse me of being a rampant Novell fanatic on a mad spree of Microsoft bashing. Remember, however, that I never claimed to be unprejudiced. Also remember that I regularly call Novell to task when they do something stupid - such as releasing NetWare 4.0 when it really wasn’t ready. I’m not against Microsoft. I’m just against stupidity.

�1996, Wayne M. Krakau