NT News Analysis - 01 Aug 1998

It was bound to happen: Lotus decided that the free lunch is over for users of its popular Domino Web application platform. As of July 1, customers who access Notes applications through the Domino Web interface must pay a Client Access License (CAL) fee of $30 per client. Lotus is also charging a $45 mail access fee to customers using the Web to access Notes mail.

CALs are part of an industry trend in which companies charge customers for using Web interfaces to interact with previously proprietary application environments. Both Microsoft and Netscape have implemented similar policies for their server products, so CALs are bringing Lotus' practices in line with industry norms.

"The reality is you don't get something for free," said David Smith, a sales manager for Integrators of Enterprise Solutions Midwest, a systems integrator in Overland Park, Kansas, that is a Lotus business partner and Microsoft Solutions Provider. "I think the jury is still out as to how much \[Lotus' decision to require a CAL\] is going to impact Lotus' customer base."

Lotus' announcement caught at least one customer off guard. "We did not expect to have to pay for internal people who do not have Notes to access the \[Domino-run\] application," said Stoehr Sukachevin, a software applications developer in the Department of Communications and Business Services at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, Maryland. Sukachevin's group recently began rolling out a series of Web-based Domino applications, including a data-order management system that will eventually monitor Web-based orders. Luckily, the group is using Domino's Web capabilities solely for application hosting. Customers who use both applications and Notes mail will end up paying both the CAL fee and the mail access fee.

Lotus' solution for avoiding its new fees is to buy the Notes client. With other vendor platforms, the solution might not be that simple. For example, Microsoft's Exchange and Outlook clients run on only a limited cross-section of client systems, including various flavors of Windows and Macintosh. For many customers, Outlook Web Access (the Web front-end to Exchange Server) is the only option for their non-Windows or non-Mac users, making any attempts to force customers into a more traditional full-client configuration that much more disruptive.


Merced Delay Saves Microsoft

Intel's announcement that it is delaying the introduction of its next-generation Merced chip until the year 2000 is sending shock waves through the PC industry. Particularly hard hit are the high-end server vendors, many of which are now scrambling to fill the gaps in their future product plans. Of all the major industry players the Merced delay directly affects, only one, Microsoft, is still smiling.

Why is Microsoft (especially Microsoft's marketing team) so happy? Unlike other vendors, Microsoft has nothing to lose and everything to gain by a delay in Intel's 64-bit plans. Microsoft is still trying to get its 32-bit version of Windows NT 5.0 out the door by next summer, leaving the company with neither the time nor the resources to conduct a parallel 64-bit development program.

If Intel had shipped Merced in mid-1999 as initially planned, Microsoft would have been 12 months to 18 months away from having a 64-bit NT operating system (OS) capable of exploiting the UNIX platform. At Fall Comdex 1999, you would have seen a lot of new 64-bit Merced server boxes from Sun Microsystems, SCO, and others--but not from Microsoft. Thus, Intel's delay has granted Microsoft a 12-month reprieve, generating a collective sigh of relief from the Microsoft campus.


Exchange 6.0 Takes Shape

Microsoft Exchange Server customers desiring better scalability will see their wishes come true with Platinum, the code name for Exchange Server 6.0. Due 90 days to 120 days after Windows NT 5.0 ships, Platinum will feature extremely tight integration with Active Directory (AD). Microsoft officials claim that you can leverage this integration to provide additional modularization within Exchange's design. For example, you can install the directory and storage services on different servers, a feat that was difficult using Exchange 5.5. Other changes include a switchover from X.400 to Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) as the internal message transfer protocol, Object Linking and Embedding Database (OLE DB) support, and the ability to host instant-messaging sessions.

Platinum's promise of better scalability comes with a few strings attached. The upgrade relies on AD, so customers must upgrade to NT 5.0 to tap Platinum's scalability powers.

Such strings between Microsoft's platform and application products are nothing new. Most Microsoft customers have been burned by a system requirement that looked suspiciously like a forced upgrade. But forcing Exchange customers to become early adopters of NT 5.0 is bound to cause a backlash because the stakes are much higher. The NT 5.0 upgrade is truly massive, with millions of new lines of code and a substantially reengineered kernel. These Exchange customers might consider themselves guinea pigs rather than early adopters.


Team Pentium Pinch Hits for Merced

Like a veteran slugger called into the game to face the local pitching ace, Intel is calling on its existing line of P6-based CPUs to fill in for its delayed teammate, Merced. Starting this summer, Intel will begin a program of accelerated CPU releases designed to keep the PC channel rolling while the company performs last minute tuning on its next-generation chip.

First at the plate will be 450MHz and 500MHz Pentium II CPUs with the new Katmai 3-D instruction set. These Slot 1-based chips will be targeted primarily at workstation users with modest requirements (i.e., the corporate masses).

The second batter up will be the new Tanner CPU design, which incorporates all of Katmai's features but delivers them on a more robust Slot 2 connector. Intel originally positioned this beefed-up 32-bit chip as a transition chip for customers wanting to migrate to Merced. Intel intended for both Tanner and Merced to be based on the forthcoming Slot M connector architecture. However, Intel has since backed away from its earlier positions regarding Tanner and Merced migration. It is now planning to release Tanner as a Slot 2 product.

On the server front, Intel still plans to release its much anticipated 450NX chipset later this year. And rumors are circulating that Intel is planning a bonus for enterprise customers: the ability to directly address up to 8GB of system memory. Although only a stopgap measure until Merced's 64-bit addressing scheme is available, this bonus will let customers create larger databases and house more complex applications. Windows NT 5.0 will supposedly include support for this new addressing scheme when it ships next year.

Can Intel afford to delay Merced? If you asked that question a year ago, the answer was a resounding no. However, given the wholesale migration by traditional UNIX vendors to the Merced platform, Intel is operating in a state of grace with regard to next-generation CPU development. These same UNIX vendors are Intel's biggest competitors in the enterprise CPU architecture space. Intel has its rivals right where it wants them, and any delay in Merced's delivery schedule will only serve to frustrate rivals' efforts to transition from their proprietary RISC-based roots.


Plato Bundled with SQL Server 7.0

Throughout the early betas of SQL Server 7.0 and Plato (the code name for Microsoft's online analytical processing--OLAP server), Microsoft hadn't decided whether to package Plato separately or bundle it with SQL Server 7.0. Microsoft has finally reached a decision: It will bundle Plato with SQL Server 7.0.

Most current OLAP solutions are expensive and complex, which hinder the widespread adoption of OLAP and decision-support applications, especially in small and midsize businesses. Bundling Plato changes this outlook dramatically. OLAP will be available by default for all SQL Server installations, allowing many businesses to use data-warehousing, data-mart, and decision-support tools. As a result, many companies will need to get their database administrators (DBAs) up to speed on OLAP technologies.

SQL Server's inclusion of Plato will heat up the OLAP marketplace. Although SQL Server users will welcome the bundle, vendors of low-end OLAP products will feel the squeeze of increased competition.

Microsoft is planning to release SQL Server 7.0 and Plato in October. You can integrate Plato with Microsoft Office applications, such as Excel pivot tables. The OLAP server includes the Object Linking and Embedding Database (OLE DB) for OLAP provider and ActiveX Data Objects MultiDimensional (ADOMD) for custom access. (For more information about Plato, see Karen Watterson, "A New Kid on the OLAP Block," NT News Analysis, May 1998.)


The Great Informix Giveaway

Wanted: Windows NT database developers with a sense of adventure and extra time on their hands. The reward: Receive $75,000 worth of database software free.

No, this deal is not a trick or a misprint. Instead, it is an effort by Informix to stimulate developer interest in its NT-based database products. Informix's radical strategy of giving away valuable software mimics Microsoft's successful developer programs. The idea is to get Informix software into as many developer hands as possible and hope that at least some developers catch the Informix fever.

Informix has been languishing on the outer fringe of the rapidly growing NT database market, garnering only 2 percent to 3 percent of the overall market share. Given that the market for NT databases grew by more than 91 percent in 1997 and is now estimated at $872 million, Informix would be a fool not to pursue a larger piece of the pie.

Will Informix's radical plan serve it up a larger piece? The outcome depends on the whims of the developer community. Informix has traditionally been very strong in UNIX circles, but UNIX developers are abandoning UNIX for NT in droves. If Informix effectively leverages its name brand with these familiar customers, it might have a shot at increasing its market share. Still, Informix needs to get the word out about all this free software. Might I suggest a megaphone?


Microsoft Office 2000 to Get SQL Savvy

It's official: Microsoft is naming the next version of its market-leading productivity suite Office 2000. Office 2000 is shaping up to be a database-savvy release. Specifically, Microsoft is enhancing both Excel and Access to make them better clients to the company's forthcoming SQL Server 7.0.

On the Excel front, Microsoft is adding native support for the Object Linking and Embedding Database (OLE DB) for OLAP API, bolstering the package's already impressive array of data access protocols. Excel 2000 users can tap into SQL Server 7.0's online analytical processing (OLAP) server (code-named Plato) and analyze multidimensional data using Excel's pivot table feature. (For more information about Plato, see the story "Plato Bundled with SQL Server 7.0," page 40.)

Although Excel 2000's new data manipulation features are primarily of interest to the number-crunching crowd, Access 2000 is a natural for anyone doing database development on SQL Server 7.0. For the first time, Access will let developers bypass the local Jet database engine and make Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) calls directly to SQL Server. The result will be a cleaner data access model and improved transaction performance.

Microsoft plans to release a technical beta of Office 2000 in the second quarter or third quarter of 1998. Microsoft then plans to refresh the beta code base several times throughout the summer and early fall, culminating in a broader marketing beta in the third quarter or fourth quarter.

Is Microsoft finally discovering the value of end-to-end data management? With SQL Server 7.0 and Office 2000 still on the beta drawing boards, it's too early to tell. However, if the features Microsoft is touting for Office 2000 work as advertised, Microsoft will establish itself as the premiere database player in the Windows client/server computing space.


IE 5.0 Gets Slim, Integrates Better

As Microsoft ramps up its beta program for Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0, details are emerging about the browser's revised architecture. In addition to being leaner, IE 5.0 will, for the first time, let customers choose whether they want to install the company's controversial Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Microsoft got into hot water earlier this year with J/Direct, a technology in JVM that lets Java applications directly access Windows API functions. Sun Microsystems filed suit against Microsoft, claiming that Microsoft violated its licensing agreement for Java.

Customers who prefer to choose their Internet components are viewing Microsoft's decision to unbundle JVM from the browser-only version of IE 5.0 as a victory. However, Microsoft officials deny that Sun's lawsuit was the primary motive for unbundling, and point instead to the larger trend toward component-based software. According to sources close to the company, Microsoft hopes to expand the reach of its Internet and Web technologies by further streamlining them and making them suitable for embedding within other applications. A good example is Outlook 98, which uses the IE 5.0 rendering engine to display the Outlook Today screen, a Dynamic HTML-based summary screen.

Microsoft's ultimate goal is to foster similar integration efforts from third parties. This goal is a driving force behind the company's decision to break much of the IE 5.0 suite into components. The goal is also behind Microsoft's decision to focus on tightly integrating Office 2000 and IE 5.0 over the next 6 months to 12 months. Only time will tell if Microsoft's strategy will translate into a tangible win for the software giant or prompt the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to call Microsoft to the carpet for continuing to bundle IE technology in increasingly intractable ways.


New 350MHz and 400MHz Pentium II Processors Might Not Be What You Expected

Intel's new 350MHz and 400MHz Pentium II processors have set new PC price-performance standards. Both processors provide new high-end speed limits for Intel CPUs and support for the new 440BX chipset, which raises the bus speed from 66MHz to 100MHz. However, these new members of the Pentium II chip family are not the Deschutes chips that you might have been expecting. Instead, the 350MHz and 400MHz Pentium II processors use Slot 1 technology and incorporate a 512KB Level 2 cache, in which the cache bus runs at half the CPU speed.

Intel plans to release the Deschutes chips--known as the Pentium II Xeon chips--in the second half of 1998. The Pentium II Xeon chips use Slot 2 technology and have a much larger 2MB Level 2 cache running at full processor speed. The Pentium II Xeon chips will run at 400Hz and 450MHz. These features make the upcoming Xeon chips much better suited to high-end server and workstation implementations than the current Pentium II CPUs. (For more information about the Xeon chips, see Craig Barth, "Xeon, Warrior CPU," NT News Analysis, July 1998.)


Chrome: Microsoft's Heavy Metal

As Microsoft's forthcoming Chrome multimedia architecture begins to take shape, developers are facing up to the platform's hefty resource requirements. According to Brad Chase, vice president of Windows marketing and developer relations at Microsoft, Chrome will require serious hardware to perform well. "The initial PCs that will run the Chrome feature of Windows 98 are going to be 350MHz Pentium boxes," Chase said at the PC Futures '98 show in St. Louis, Missouri. "You're not going to be able to have this \[architecture\] on a standard Pentium today." A typical Chrome-capable configuration will feature a 300MHz (or higher) Pentium II processor, 100MHz system bus, 4MB of video memory, 64MB of RAM, and Digital Video Disc (DVD) capability.

Chrome works by exposing the Windows DirectX multimedia architecture to Web developers. Through standard programming interfaces such as Extensible Markup Language (XML), C++, Visual Basic Script (VBScript), and JScript, developers can build complex presentations that require a fraction of the bandwidth needed compared with more traditional approaches, such as animated Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) images. The result will be a content-rich Web experience that melds streaming media, high-fidelity graphics, and interactive capabilities, all accelerated by the underlying DirectX infrastructure.

However, Chrome has several drawbacks, the first of which is its Windows-centric technology. Developers who want to create platform-neutral presentations will likely choose other solutions, such as Java or one of the non-Microsoft streaming media formats.

Another drawback is the amount of client processing power that Chrome needs. As the trend toward media-rich content gains momentum, many developers are struggling to design media-rich solutions that work in a client-poor environment. In other words, developers are trying to design solutions that accommodate the lowest common PC denominator: a Pentium PC with an HTML browser. But Chrome requires significant client-side horsepower, making the developers' job next to impossible. Chrome pushes the performance bar so far ahead that mainstream users won't see its benefits until 400MHz Pentium II systems become commonplace.

Chrome's hefty resource requirements and its proprietary link to Windows technology will likely keep it a niche technology for some time. Enterprise customers and independent developers need to consider this fact as they assess Chrome's place in their long-term plans.


Embedded NT to the Rescue?

Microsoft's decision to license component management technology from VenturCom is the first in what many industry analysts are predicting to be a series of aggressive moves by the software giant toward embedding Windows NT into nontraditional computing environments. Microsoft's embedded NT strategy calls for companies to adapt the NT operating system (OS) architecture for specific vertical applications. For example, one scenario that officials at Annasoft Systems (a VenturCom developer) have espoused is a home dialysis machine that lets doctors remotely administer treatment from a Windows-based PC. Other possible scenarios include shop-floor automation and data communications, with NT acting as a process controller or a WAN gateway and router. (For an example of a real-life application, see the story "Compaq Targets PBX Market.")

VenturCom's technology is important because it provides the basis for delivering a component-based version of NT. The company's Component Integrator product lets developers integrate individual service-level components of the NT OS into their customized builds. An Extended Component Kit (ECK) and Real-time Extensions (RTX) kit let developers eliminate NT's dependency on the keyboard and mouse and add realtime control capability.

Some analysts see embedded NT applications as a natural part of NT's evolution from product to platform. For others, the idea of NT running medical equipment is alarming. NT has yet to prove itself as a realtime OS, let alone one capable of keeping people alive. Microsoft still needs to solve programmatic problems in NT, such as what happens when a rogue application or service decides to pop up a dialog box on the server's console. Microsoft also needs to stabilize NT's code, which is in a state of significant flux. Cataloging and putting NT's OS into components will be difficult because NT 5.0 introduces a host of new services and capabilities. So, if you choose to venture into this uncharted territory of embedded NT applications, proceed with caution.


Compaq Targets PBX Market

When Compaq releases its N Series of Proliant servers in the fourth quarter of 1998, the company will be taking Windows NT into the PBX wiring closet. As part of a new program being managed by its Tandem division, Compaq will introduce a series of customized servers targeted specifically at the low- to midrange telecommunications market, especially telephone companies (telcos).

Featuring remote management capabilities and a bundle of Signaling System 7 protocol applications from SignalSoft, Compaq is positioning the new servers as cost-effective solutions for smaller telcos seeking to offer value-added services, such as prepaid calling cards. Other possible applications include location-sensitive billing and emergency roadside assistance.

Compaq is basing the new servers on its Proliant 850, 1600, and 6500 rack-mount servers and adding advanced fault-tolerance features, such as RAID subsystems. However, even a robust hardware platform might not be enough to sell customers on the idea of NT as a telecom solution. Vendors have found selling organization-level NT telecom systems to PBX customers tough enough. Pitching NT as a platform for telco-level applications could be a challenge given the environment's requirement for 99 percent availability. Most current generation NT configurations can boast 90 percent to 95 percent uptime.

Compaq's NT-for-telcos solution demonstrates a growing trend toward embedded, function-specific implementations of the core NT operating system (OS). From routers to gateways to fax servers, the idea of deploying NT as a vertical application server is catching on quickly. (For more information about embedded NT applications, see the story "Embedded NT to the Rescue?" page 45.)

Microsoft now needs to stabilize the NT code base so that overall reliability and availability can be brought up to the levels that telcos and other mission-critical industries require. This improvement won't happen soon. Microsoft has clearly indicated that the need for a stable code base will take a back seat to higher profile issues, such as Windows NT 5.0 and 64-bit computing. So until NT 5.x has been proven in the field (around 2002), customers need to proceed with caution when evaluating NT as a platform for high-availability applications, including telecommunications.

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