Expect only beta versions of Windows NT 5.0 this year

Whether the Windows NT 5.0 operating system brings
revolutionary change to the enterprise or not, Microsoft Corp.'s survival rides on it.
That's one reason the OS won't be rushed to market before early 1999.

With server clustering (see story, Page 31), NT Server
and Workstation 5.0 will make or break client-server computing. Many government sites are
delaying upgrades until they see NT 5.0.

The 5-year-old NT 3.1, Microsoft's first 32-bit operating system, was designed from the
first for networked environments. The two versions now in widespread use have had many
service pack amendments.

The older NT 3.51, now used mainly in multiuser Windows environments, is up to Service
Pack 5. The current NT 4.0 is up to Service Pack 3.

That alone shows how much development effort has gone into the OS. Its installed base
is running below 8 million, but the number of copies sold doubles every year.

The first thing you'll notice about NT Workstation 5.0 is that, like its Windows 98
sibling [GCN, Feb. 23, Page 33], it revolves around the Internet Explorer 4.0
interface. Some users will love this; others will hate it. You can pretty much get rid of
Explorer if you choose to.

The Active Desktop components work the same as they do in Win98. But for most
government users, the push-technology channels will be of limited value.

NT Workstation 5.0, in the first beta version tested by the GCN Lab, keeps some of
Microsoft's promises, such as Plug and Play support and friendlier device management. NT
5.0 also supports Universal Serial Bus devices and other new technologies.

There's a Hardware Wizard with a simple interface for adding, configuring and removing

The function was present but not working in the beta release we tested. Every current
NT and Win95 user looks forward to better resolution of hardware conflicts.

One big complaint about NT Workstation 4.0 was that the interface might be similar to
Win95's, but the internal workings were a mystery. Even experienced NT users never found
things where they should be, or they had to take cumbersome extra steps. Many such
problems have been fixed in NT 5.0.

From the Microsoft Management Console, users and administrators of NT 5.0 can get
information on device resources, interrupt requests, disk information and services.

The console itself is a development environment for which Microsoft and other vendors
can deliver information, called Snap-Ins, about the OS, hardware and applications. Its
best feature is its central, easy-to-use interface for information that users and
administrators need to keep their computers running well.

As the Microsoft Management Console catches on, you can expect to see Snap-Ins
implemented for many products.

Finding information on your server or in shared folders on your network is easier with
NT 5.0's Distributed File System, a network server component that can create folders
spanning servers and shared folders.

A folder titled Fiscal 1999 might include files that reside on two different file
servers plus a shared folder on a user's PC. To anyone who accesses the folder, its
contents appear to be stored at one location.

As computing gets more distributed, file systems' compatibility becomes more important.

NT 5.0 will bring yet another one, NTFS 5.0. Substantially the same as NT 4.0, it also
has disk quotas, compressed network throughput and other enhancements. NT Workstation 5.0
also will support the 32-bit File Allocation Table natively.

NT 5.0 gets along with digital video disks, the Advanced Configuration and Power
Interface, the Network Driver Interface Specification 5.0 for asynchronous transfer mode,
Pentium MMX and power management. Plug and Play plus power management will make NT
Workstation 5.0 the best choice for high-end notebook computers.

Backup will get easier, too. Users can select tape, removable media such as Iomega Zip
disks, CD-recordable disks and logical drives, including those pointing to a network

NT has always been the most secure PC operating system, and that will continue. NT 5.0
will support encryption at file and folder levels. This isn't bulletproof, but it does
improve security for users who share a computer with others.

Also coming under NT 5.0's security banner is the Kerberos 5 network security protocol,
which provides single log-in access to all environments that support it.

Of special interest to government users will be NT 5.0's smart card capability.
Microsoft has built a standard model for readers and cards, plus an application
programming interface and development tools.

The first beta version of NT 5.0 that we tested was remarkably stable, perhaps because
many features slated for the final release are unfinished.

Expect Beta 2, which will likely be out next month, to give a rougher ride. Don't be
too surprised if history repeats itself and Microsoft follows up with Version 5.1 about
six months after 5.0.

The first beta version of Windows NT Server 5.0 is less polished than the Workstation
version. Almost all of Workstation's features are present in Server 5.0, in addition to
big network operating system enhancements.

Server 5.0 promises to bring NT closer to a true enterprise OS, but the transition
won't be easy. Much of the release delay centers around enterprise support tools that will
exist on desktop and server.

NT Server 4.0 is an excellent workgroup or departmental NOS, but Microsoft has had a
tough time making it work for an enterprise the size of a federal agency.

The biggest hurdle has been in directory services.

Directory services form a hierarchical tree of objects on a network: users, printers,
servers and networked PCs.

This eases administration and makes the NOS more scalable.

Novell Inc.'s Novell Directory Services has been around for years and even has been
ported to NT. Microsoft falls far behind Novell here. Beta 1 of NT Server 5.0 has only an
incomplete implementation of Microsoft's Active Directory.

Active Directory leverages many open standards, including the Lightweight Directory
Access Protocol 3 and Internet Domain Name System. It will remain backward-compatible with
the domain structures from previous NT versions, and the directory structures can be
replicated between servers.

The directory object store will hold millions of entries. Developers can access the
Active Directory through Java, Microsoft's Distributed Component Object Model, COM, Visual
Basic and Visual C++ applications.

Active Directory relies on open Internet standards, so plan on having IP loaded

A feature sure to please administrators of heavy-duty NT application servers is NT
5.0's ability to exploit up to 32G of memory on Digital Alpha servers and up to 4G on
servers with Intel chips.

Administrators of NT Server 5.0 can put quotas on disks and folders for users or
groups. This will alleviate their headaches from managing NT file services.

Administrators can boost the size of an NTFS volume without rebooting the server.

Poor security has been the biggest criticism of NT 4.0. NT Server 5.0 shows that
Microsoft is listening. Active Directory will permit a single log-on to all network
resources to which users have rights. The default authentication is through Kerberos 5.

NT Server 5.0 also will have IP security management, an encrypting file system and a
public-key certificate server based on the X.509 standard.

When NT 5.0 hits the streets next year, you can count on some security holes being
found, but this time Microsoft has provided real tools to patch them.

The included backup program, Windows NT Backup from Seagate Software Inc. of Heathrow,
Fla., will even support encrypted backups.

IntelliMirror, part of Microsoft's Zero Administration effort, is an NT service that
can replicate an NT Workstation user's profile and application settings for recovering
from crashes and upgrading to new PCs.

The Microsoft Management Console implementation under NT Server 5.0 will bring benefits
for in-depth troubleshooting and administration of other NT 5.0 systems.

That's a good reason to consider upgrading desktop systems to NT Workstation 5.0
instead of Win98. The console shell will supply a common, enterprisewide interface and
will be configurable, so administrators can create an interface with just the tools

Along with Active Directory, Microsoft Management Console likely will make the most
improvement in NT's viability for enterprise environments.

There are still gaps in the beta version we tested and in specifications for the final
release. One is interoperability with Novell NetWare.

Granted, the two companies are competitors, but most servers today run some version of
Novell software, especially the government's enterprise servers.

It's time Microsoft gave up the us-or-them attitude and acknowledged that most
enterprise networks are going to have to run both NOSes. Microsoft does provide NT
migration tools for NetWare servers, but that's not an option for many administrators.

Too bad the two companies haven't agreed on common standards for the administration and
directory services needed by thousands of sites that use both NOSes.

NT Server 5.0, if it does what Microsoft says, will assume an important role in
enterprise networking. But it still won't have all the tools needed to make it the sole
foundation of an enterprise network.

Unlike Win98, which is incremental and doesn't give much incentive to upgrade, NT 5.0
will be a big step forward. PC users will benefit from high levels of security, stability
and performance. For current NT server administrators and buyers of new servers, NT 5.0
will be a necessary upgrade.

But for primarily Novell sites, NT still does not muster enough reasons to take the big
step toward conversion.

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