Windows NT beta rolls along, despite some driver problems
- By Michael Cheek
- Apr 01, 1996
It might take the patience of Job to install the first beta
release of Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0 operating system, but perseverance is worthwhile. NT
4.0 Workstation grafts the popular Windows 95 look and feel onto a powerful, true 32-bit
I found that CD-ROM installation went almost flawlessly on some test machines but
failed even to begin writing to the hard drive on others. The problem, it turned out, was
drivers and confusion between EISA and SCSI hard drives. Drivers, in fact, are my main
concern about the new NT, which lacks Win95's convenient though quirky Plug and Play
My smoothest installation of NT 4.0 was on the Pentium Pro-based PowerMate Pro150 from
NEC Technologies Inc., with 32M of RAM and 1.6G drive. However, none of the
Microsoft-provided video drivers would work with the PowerMate's Matrox MGA Millennium
Microsoft no doubt will put together a more complete group of drivers before it
releases NT 4.0 later this year. But I foresee another mad scramble for all kinds of
drivers, because NT 3.51 drivers aren't compatible with 4.0 drivers.
Once I had the right video driver on board, this beta software's performance was
remarkably solid. Perhaps that's because much of the underlying code remained intact. The
shell that's new to NT isn't really that new--it basically was transferred from Windows
The beta never bombed but was sluggish compared with Version 3.51. Oddly, some
NT-specific products like Microsoft Word 6.0 suffered the most from sluggishness; Word
macros responded much more slowly under 4.0. Other products--even math-intensive Adobe
Systems' Photoshop 3.0.5--performed equally well under both OSes.
Although the 16-bit emulation performance is supposed to be improved in 4.0, my Pentium
Pro installation showed no improvement. Then again, I saw no decline, so execution might
be a bit faster with the final code.
Microsoft says any 16-bit software will run in a special area of memory under NT 4.0.
If a 16-bit app should bomb, all 32-bit programs will be protected. Applications operate
in a separate memory area, anyhow, so program crashes won't wreck the underlying OS.
Overall, Windows NT 4.0 should be a boon to federal IT managers. With the move away
from MS-DOS-oriented networking to Windows NT, LAN administration should get much easier
as all users have the same (or similar) operating systems.
Microsoft is building in upgradeability from Windows 95 to NT 4.0. In fact, it makes
feature-to-feature comparisons between the two OSes. Wondering which one to choose in
moving up from Windows 3.x? Windows 95 will be your best option if you're not planning to
upgrade hardware or applications right away. A 100-MHz Pentium PC with 32M RAM makes a
good entry point for NT 4.0.
But there are compelling reasons to forge past Win95 and onto NT 4.0. The new NT Server
has built-in Novell NetWare connectivity and support for 14 other network protocols--even
peer-to-peer services. Add in the Internet Information Server capabilities--World Wide
Web, File Transfer Protocol and Domain Name Service--and NT Server looks even better.
Individual users also will benefit from 32-bit TCP/IP, the built-in Explorer Web
browser, Exchange e-mail and other client Internet services.
NT Workstation 4.0 will be available on portable PCs, too. It's already an option on
Digital Equipment Corp.'s new line of HiNote lightweight notebooks. Programmers can expect
to find multimedia sound and video capabilities in the next NT beta.
As almost any Windows 95-compliant product should work under Windows NT, there's
already a large base of 32-bit applications available. Some Win95 products won't work
perfectly under NT 4.0, and some might be laden with buried 16-bit code, but you can bet
the second-generation versions will be fully 32-bit to appeal to the much larger combined
With built-in Posix compliance on the way [GCN, Mar. 4, Page 1], Windows NT
4.0 has plenty of allure for federal users. But achieving nirvana takes patience. NT isn't
nirvana--at least not yet.
Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.; tel. 206-882-8080
Overall grade: B+
+ Reliable 32-bit core
+ Windows 95 look and feel
+ Impressive networking support and Internet services
[-] Lacks Win95 Plug and Play
[-] Fairly hard to install
100-MHz Pentium with 32M RAM and 90M free on drive