The Prime Directive

Several years ago, I was the director of software development at a medium-sized company. My staff and I took great pains to test our mission-critical software before putting it into production. If our implementation was successful, 600 users could continue working without interruption. If we failed, the system could go down, costing hundreds of dollars per minute. The recent problems with Service Pack 2 (SP2) make me wonder whether Microsoft developers forgot that Windows NT is running business-critical environments.

The recent horror stories of users rebuilding systems after installing SP2 have prompted some special coverage in this magazine and on our Web site. Mark Minasi relates his SP2 war story and provides some interesting tips for avoiding a service pack disaster. Jonathan Chau gives some workarounds and troubleshooting tips. And we've created a special Web page ( just for NT service packs.

To be fair, I acknowledge that every OS has problems with maintenance releases. I spent a few wasted evenings trying to recover from AS/400 program temporary fixes (PTFs) and NetWare loadable module (NLM) patches. OS maintenance is usually two steps forward and one step back, but SP2 is more like two steps back and one step forward.

Dear Microsoft, treat NT like a fine wine: Don't release it before its time! Stability is the prime directive, and it's worth the wait.

From what I can tell, several things have happened to NT development. First, Microsoft merged the Windows 95 team into the NT team. I'm not sure the two groups have the same development philosophy, and the difference is beginning to show. Next, Microsoft's Internet emphasis has removed part of NT's development from the protective care of Dave Cutler. That move worries me. Cutler's philosophy assures quality because it is event driven: The product is finished when it's finished. The new team seems to be date driven: Whatever exists on the predetermined release date is what ships. In other words, the team has already determined when SP3, SP4, and NT 5.0 beta will ship. Regardless of NT's condition, the product will make that date. Worse yet, the software is available for download from Microsoft's Web site, where we can all experience the agony of defeat within minutes (hours, if you have a slow connection.)

NT's success is built on one principle: stability. In fact, instead of "Where do you want to go today?" Microsoft's motto could have been "Windows NT: It just works." If NT loses its reputation for stability, the foundation will crack and the house will crumble.

Dear Microsoft, treat NT like a fine wine: Don't release it before its time! Stability is the prime directive, and it's worth the wait.

NT Workstation License Follow-Up
Last November, I wrote about the Windows NT Workstation (NTW) licensing agreement confusion (check I mentioned that Microsoft would work with Windows NT Magazine and International Data Corporation (IDC) to investigate whether to change the agreement.

Microsoft never called. So I contacted Adam Taylor, Microsoft group product manager for desktop marketing, and asked about the status of the agreement. He said the license agreement will stand as is--no changes. "Our core customers have said the current license agreement is not a problem," said Taylor. However, many readers have written me wondering whether their environment violates the agreement. How can NT licensees who have good intentions deal with this confusion?

One interpretation of the agreement is that if you're using NTW as your primary workstation, you're fine, regardless of the number of connections. This scenario may violate the letter of the law, but it keeps the spirit. Microsoft is not going to send the license police after you. Microsoft has enough trouble with people who aren't paying anything for software. Above all, Microsoft should not restrict NTW more than other desktop operating systems, including Windows for Workgroups, Win95 or OS/2 Merlin. That approach makes no sense.

If you're using NTW as a server, you need to limit the number of simultaneously connected inbound computers to 10. This way, you can run small Web servers, peer-to-peer networking, and other small services. If you know you have more than 10 inbound computers simultaneously connecting, upgrade to NT Server. Often, NTW can technically handle the server application, but that's not the point. When you buy NTW, you're buying 10 simultaneous inbound computer connections for desktop use. The fact that NTW can act as a server is a bonus.

Thanks for all your email on this subject. I think this interpretation will work for most of us.

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