Beware empty promises from new NT applications

NT itself runs like clockwork, but little else seems to work well with it. Third-party
hardware and software vendors are just getting geared up to support NT. Windows 95 users
will find that many of their favorite tools aren't available for NT.

This is the same reason I held on to Windows 3.1 for so long before converting my old
PC to Windows 95. I made a conscious decision to let others have the fun of being on the
bleeding edge of technology.

Determined not to miss out this time, I leapt forward into NT. My decision was
influenced by my day job, where NT is the network OS of choice. With a couple of
week-long, hands-on classes under my belt, I felt prepared to tackle NT in my home office.
Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the cruel world of NT driver software support.

The first addition to my new PC was an industrial-strength backup device. NT computers
eat gigabytes of hard disk space. Readers may recall my bout with computer viruses when I
swore I would have up-to-date backup of my hard drives. Backups on the old 486 had been a
disaster. This experience plus the risk of falling victim to new viruses were my biggest
reasons for upgrading both hardware and OSes.

Microsoft is picky about NT software certification; it recommends checking an approved
list that changes every nanosecond. At the computer store, I closely examined the drive's
packaging. The box said it supported NT 3.51. I had NT 4.0 Workstation and was concerned
about horror stories at the office that the software might not be compatible. Reassured by
the store's return policy, I bought the tape backup.

When I went to install the drive, I was shocked by a "we lied" note inside
the box.

"Please disregard the reference to Microsoft Windows NT operating system support
on page 2 of the installation guide. There is no Microsoft Windows NT support in this
package. ... If you want Microsoft Windows NT support contact [a competing company] and
purchase their NT version."

Disheartened, I called the competitor, which sent me software for another $108. The
software would not install, complaining, "ASPI or WinASPI shell not found."
Disgusted, I returned both the backup device and software and searched for another

When I read the microscopic text on the packaging of the next drive and didn't see NT,
I was reassured by the salesperson that the NT version of the software was inside.

"If the NT drivers aren't on the CD, you'll find them on the World Wide Web,"
he said. This line should be added to sales classics such as "This cream puff was
owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays." But I trusted the
reputation of the store and bought the device.

As the box implied, there were no NT drivers on the installation disk. But the
manufacturer's Web site offered the NT drivers for only $19.95. After an eternity on the
800 number I was told that the software was backordered by three weeks. My guess is that
they are still writing it.

I went back to the store and had a friendly but firm chat with the general manager who
showed me a new drive from the maker of the first drive I'd had so much fun with.
Skeptical but reassured by the explicit references to NT Version 4.0 on the box, I bought
it and three 3.2G tapes. Following simple instructions, I installed the drive and it
worked nicely. Inside three hours I had three gigabytes of system and applications
software and data safely copied onto tape.

At last I had a working backup solution.

Walter R. Houser, who has more than two decades of experience in federal information
management, is webmaster for a Cabinet agency. His own Web home page is at

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