By Meghan Cotter
Delayed state and local government migration to client/server, coupled with widespread Windows implementation for word processing and office automation needs, is driving MIS directors to opt for Windows NT over UNIX and Novell operating systems. Although Novell's installed base far exceeds Microsoft's in this arena, the trend toward NT will challenge even Novell's dominant market position.
All too often, the choice of a network operating system is determined by the individual who signs the checks. This method of choosing a network operating system is fundamentally flawed because these buyers are more heavily influenced by marketing hype than by a product's technical merit.
Purchasing decisions should be made by the network administrators who install and manage the network. Corner-office buyers simply do not have the necessary technical depth and experience in the trenches to evaluate and choose a network operating system. Sifting through marketing chaff in search of the facts is a daunting task. It takes an experienced eye to see beyond the advertising glitter that often hides a networking product's blemishes and deficiencies.
Y2K PUSHING CHANGES
Many state and local government agencies are preparing to replace their network operating systems (NOS) because of a chain of events revolving around the impending Year 2000 (Y2K) issue. The problem is not in the NOS itself, but with the applications that use it.
None of the current Microsoft Office 4.x or 95 products are Y2K-compliant. As of this writing, no Y2K patches for these products have been announced. To become Y2K-compliant, government agencies must perform a wholesale upgrade to MS Office 97. Windows 3.x and OS/2 users are left out in the cold because Office 97 only runs on Windows 95 or NT. This means the bulk of agencies now using Windows 3.x and OS/2 are facing a mass migration to Windows 95 or NT. The forced migration and hefty price associated with MS Office 97 may steer some buyers toward Corel's Professional Office 7 suite as an alternative.
Agencies running IBM LAN Server or Warp Server are in for an additional surprise. Windows NT clients will not authenticate to the IBM server products. IBM's DOS LAN Requester software currently performs this function, and it will not run with the NT client.
One IBM rep said he is unable to license the NT login APIs from Microsoft, so he is making a half-hearted attempt to reverse engineer them. Hacking these undocumented APIs may allow NT clients to authenticate to IBM's servers until Microsoft changes the APIs.
Unlike Novell, IBM does not have an NT client that will authenticate to their servers. IBM reps indicate that none are planned, as IBM is now concentrating its focus on Java. IBM's OS/2 client for Windows 95 will authenticate to their servers for password changes, but will not recognize user home directories unless an alias is created.
Microsoft's total domination of the desktop is slowly weeding out the players on the network operating system field. NT Server, Novell NetWare, and SCO UNIX are some of the big names still left in the game.
NT Server 4.0 is Microsoft's latest entry in the NOS sweepstakes. NT is a 32-bit, preemptively scheduled general purpose operating system. Its Windows 95 user interface is in keeping with Microsoft's focus on appearance and consistency.
NT is a strong contender in several key areas. It is the uncontested winner for painless installation of both the program files and the Service Pack updates. Microsoft is to be commended for providing high-quality installation methods across its product line.
Autodetection of installed system components under NT 4.0 is improved over previous versions. NT hardware detection is not as comprehensive as Windows 95, but this is excusable for a server product. To provide Plug and Play, NT's multi-platform operating