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NT News Network - 01 May 1997

Microsoft officials informed a core group of developers that Windows NT 5.0 will not ship until the first quarter of 1998. Are you surprised?

In a briefing under nondisclosure held in February at corporate headquarters, Microsoft experts told a group of about 50 developers that the initial beta for NT 5.0 will not be ready until late this summer at the earliest. The final versions of NT Workstation and Server 5.0 are now slated for release early next year, instead of late 1997 as Microsoft had announced previously.

This briefing marks the first time Microsoft has acknowledged that NT 5.0 will be a 1998 product. One anonymous developer said, "I'll be surprised if they make \[the first quarter of 1998\]. I think \[the second quarter\] is a more likely bet."

Apparently, Microsoft is struggling with key decisions on how to package NT 5.0, having not yet announced a date for a release candidate. Microsoft is not publicly revealing any status of NT 5.0 packaging, but the company does seem to be moving forward with plans for two different versions of NT 5.0: an enterprise version laden with features, and a lighter-weight version. Rumor has it that Microsoft's top operating system (OS) managers have been questioning top OS analysts about the two different versions of NT 5.0.

Microsoft officials say they are engaged in figuring out how to release NT 5.0 and what technologies will be part of the release. Some people speculate that Microsoft will release its lightweight version first because of unexpected delays in the enterprise version. Insiders say the enterprise version will include clustering, SNA Server, and the new Transaction Server.

According to analysts, Microsoft needs to break the stigma that NT is a NetWare or OS/2 replacement. One way to accomplish that positioning is to segment the market.

Another advantage of segmentation is that it will let Microsoft focus its marketing efforts. Analysts also say that many people using NT don't need some of its high-end technologies and that a departmental-server version of NT would be highly useful and do well as an early release of NT 5.0

Industry experts guess that Microsoft OS engineers are probably still discussing what to bundle with NT 5.0. Another topic of speculation is that they may not yet have all the technologies available to put the high-end product together.


OS/2 Gets an NT Spin
In a move that screams, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," IBM recently announced three components that help OS/2 Warp Server work better with Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 clients. The new components include improved administration and security. IBM officials believe these components give NT Server some OS/2 capabilities, such as integrated backup and recovery and better scalability, while adding a bit of NT-ness to OS/2.

The new components support multiple user profiles on one system, and systems policies. Two of the components create a designated home directory for Windows in the OS/2 Warp Server domain where administrators can set security policies. The third component will for the first time let both Win95 and NT recognize OS/2 as a resource of the Network Neighborhood desktop object. To read more about IBM in the news, visit http://www.software.ibm.com/news.


NT and UNIX on IBM Mainframes
IBM's mainframe and midrange operating systems are experiencing an ever-diminishing lead over high-end UNIX and Windows NT computing. Analysts consider NT as the main threat to IBM, yet research still shows that UNIX holds a lead over NT for solid enterprise computing. Analysts say this situation is because IBM's OS/390 supports native UNIX APIs and thus UNIX applications.

IBM's OS/400 won't support NT natively, but the AS/400 has an Intel-based board that will soon run NT applications in the AS/400 system. The Gartner Group says the OS/390 will support NT application interfaces this spring and expects IBM to shift to NT as its most strategic, general-purpose enterprise platform by 2001. For more information, visit http://www.ibm.com and http://www.gartner.com.


Tricord Exits Enterprise Server Market
Tricord Systems has announced a significant shift in its corporate strategy. The company is exiting the enterprise server market to focus on developing and marketing distributed data-access and data-management products. The company's technology facilitates transparent sharing of network-attached storage among clustered servers running Windows NT. The technology lets IS organizations centralize data storage and reduce the costs associated with managing storage and sharing data.

Since Tricord introduced the concept of the super-server five years ago, the market has changed dramatically. Technical differentiation, which is what has set Tricord apart from the pack, has become increasingly difficult as standard server components have become more sophisticated. Intel's Pentium Pro architecture, which mandates specific bus architecture, is a prime example. This trend lets a few large vendors control the market with a high-volume, low-cost strategy, so Tricord cannot compete and stay profitable.

Is Tricord's shift in strategy an abandonment of its core competency? Tricord officials responded on their Web site by saying, "No. Tricord's distributed data access and management technology combines the company's recognized expertise in I/O software technology and distributed file system software acquired from Reliable Distributed Information (RDI) in 1996. This technology is not a start-up project. It was an integral part of Tricord's Pentium Pro server development and is well underway. The combination of existing and acquired technology presents Tricord with the opportunity to be the first company in the Intel/Windows NT Server market to create file-level I/O, managed at the intelligent controller level instead of in the CPU/main memory environment. The benefit of this technology is providing the market with Windows NT-attached storage that is easier to use, has higher performance, and provides system-level reliability across a cluster."

Addressing what this decision will mean for Tricord's future, a company representative said, "Although there are no guarantees, Tricord is confident that its strategic shift provides greater opportunity for success than continuing to compete in a server market dominated by commodity products." This confidence is supported by five key factors:

  • I/O technology is Tricord's recognized core competency, and specialization in this area is a natural focus for Tricord.
  • Next-generation I/O technology is not a start-up project; the technology was an integral part of Tricord's next-generation server program and is well under way.
  • The market for NT-attached storage is growing at an annual rate of 31 percent.
  • Tricord's software I/O technology implementation offers the opportunity to partner with numerous key players in the market, including disk controller manufacturers, server companies, and storage vendors.
  • The strategy shift aligns Tricord's current financial strength with an appropriate level of investment.
  • The super-server market presents Tricord with the opportunity to capitalize on its core competency of I/O technology and introduce a product set beyond just Tricord servers. Tricord will continue to support its existing user base but will stop manufacturing, designing, and marketing its hardware at the end of this year. The company's intent is to focus on the I/O performance market (controller cards, disk subsystems, NT drivers, etc.).

Bob Robinson, CEO of LANology of Houston, Texas, said, "Tricord's exit from this market leaves NetFRAME in a great position to take up the slack in the microcomputer super-server market. This move should also create a situation where Compaq and other similar companies can get in and win former super-server customers. This development may cause many former super-server buyers to consider purchasing high-end multiprocessor Pentiums and Alphas with faster PCI bus architectures, or perhaps buy Sequent Servers instead." Read the complete details of Tricord's decision on the Web: http://www.tricord.com.

Windows NT Strengthens Its Position
It appears that 1996 was another banner year for Windows NT. Recent studies by Telecommunication Research Group (TRG) show that during the last quarter of 1996, about 51 percent of all new Web servers were installed on NT Server--more than five times as many installations as on UNIX during the same period. Equally impressive are the latest International Data Corp. (IDC) sales reports, which show sales of NT grew by 85 percent in 1996--about six times the growth of NetWare.

Computer Intelligence (CI) conducted surveys in the US and Western Europe and found that NT 4.0 was number one, out-shipping all other Intel-based server operating systems in 1996. Also, a Netcraft (UK) survey shows that NT with IIS comprises 23 percent of all commercial Web servers deployed, whereas rival Netscape's Communication Server accounts for just 13 percent. To learn more, point your Web browser to http://www.netcraft.com/survey.

Other recent reports from International Data Corp. (IDC), Gartner Group, and Forrester Research all agree that NT is successfully replacing UNIX workstations and low-end servers. Still, high-end UNIX server sales have not faltered so far, mainly because of the availability of 64-bit UNIX operating systems and high-end scalability. Microsoft officials say that they don't expect NT to support scalable clustering for another two years at least. Nonetheless, a Forrester survey of fifty Fortune 1000 companies revealed that 76 percent will purchase both UNIX and NT over the next two years. Such plans reveal high interest in NT from the UNIX community. According to Forrester, NT is beginning to dominate the workgroup and departmental server market, and NT Server volume is expected to explode from 465,000 units in 1996, to 936,000 units by the end of 1999.


Get Exchange Server
Anyone who wants a copy of Exchange Server 5.0 can get one easily by signing up on Microsoft's Web site. The new version requires Service Pack 3 for Windows NT 4.0. New features and enhancements in Exchange Server 5.0 include a POP3 Service, a Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) News Service, an Exchange directory service (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol--LDAP), and Exchange Active Server Components that let users access their private mailboxes using a Web browser. To sign up to receive a CD-ROM, point your Web browser to http://www.exchangeserver.com.


IBM Promotes Itself as an NT Vendor
IBM launched a new marketing and ad campaign in early March in an effort to promote itself as a vendor of Windows NT Server software. Jocelyne Attal is leading the initiative, which is an extension of the Project Eagle software-server initiative that IBM introduced last year. One of Attal's goals is to coordinate the release of IBM's middleware line so that NT versions are released at the same time as versions for AIX, Warp Server, and other operating systems.

One goal of Project Eagle was to simultaneously release software such as DB2 and CICS; however, IBM will not release NT versions of some products under that umbrella (such as the MQ Series) until later this year. Attal said that her job isn't to market NT, but to market IBM's products to customers who have NT. Attal also said Microsoft is already doing a good job of marketing NT, and IBM's job is to provide customers with the solutions they want.


Hewlett-Packard to Acquire Symantec Unit
HP and Symantec announced they have signed a nonbinding letter of intent for HP to purchase the assets of Symantec's Networking Business Unit and incorporate it into HP's OpenView systems- and network-management business. This move can strengthen HP's leading position as a global, total-solution provider of information-technology (IT) management software and services and let Symantec focus on its core competencies in productivity and security software solutions.

Symantec's Networking Business Unit is responsible for the Norton Administrator Suite, which includes Norton Administrator for Networks, the Exposé server management solution, and Norton Desktop Administrator. These products help IT administrators increase productivity and reduce the total cost of ownership of networked PCs and servers. To learn more about OpenView, visit http://www.hp.com/nsmd/ov/main.html.


Is Your Java Getting You Too Excited?
If Java has you too excited, you need to take a deep breath: Microsoft called reporters in February complaining that Sun's new Java Development Kit 1.1 prevents Java programs from running on Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0. Sun is "really disenfranchising the largest group of Java users on the planet," said Charles Fitzgerald, a program manager at Microsoft. "Those are Windows users. It's really mind boggling that \[Sun\] would do this." Sun, however, says this interpretation isn't so. The company admits that a handful of certain applications won't run but insists that fixing the problem is up to Microsoft.

The argument stems from Sun's new Java Native Interface (JNI), and Sun claims that Microsoft has already written its own native interface for its Java Virtual Machine, which comes with IE 3.0 and Windows 95 and isn't compatible with Sun's product. Sun argues that Microsoft is contractually obligated to incorporate Sun's Java Development Kit (JDK), including the JNI, into Microsoft's Java products.

Microsoft is one of Sun's most important--and most difficult--Java licensees. With so many Windows NT shops developing custom Java applications and using IE, this issue is going to become heated unless Microsoft fixes it right away in IE 4.0. To read Sun's point of view on its new JDK, point your Web browser to http://www.sun.com/smi/Press/sunflash/9612/sunflash.961203.1311.html.

3Com Acquires U.S. Robotics for $6.6 Billion
In a transaction that is said to be "the biggest merger in the history of the networking industry," 3Com announced its recent acquisition of U.S. Robotics (USR). Analysts continue to speculate about whether this deal is good. Some analysts speculate that combining the two companies' weaknesses may be a bad thing. 3Com's performance has been poor for six to nine months, and USR's performance has been down for three to six months. Other analysts say the merger can't be all bad, because 3Com and USR are both the market leaders in their respective niches. Lots of network shops use 3Com and USR products.

This acquisition will effectively create a company with a $5 billion annual revenue stream and is supposed to offer 3Com customers one-stop shopping for LANs and WANs. USR just started shipping its new 56Kbps modem technology in late February, and many leading online services, including America Online, have already adopted it. To read 3Com's full press release on this huge merger, see http://www.3com.com/0files/releases/feb2697.html.


Cisco Maintains Its Acquisition Plans
Cisco Systems, which bought at least seven companies last year, is on track to do more of the same this year. CEO John Chambers said Cisco will acquire 8 to 12 companies during 1997, with the first announcement coming this month for a company that "had unique technology we wanted."

Microsoft plans to release its Steelhead WAN component for Windows NT some time in 1997. This software will be a multiprotocol router that will give NT Server high-end routing capabilities. With so many shops integrating or converting to TCP/IP, this new Microsoft product is bound to be a success and compete with Cisco, which has traditionally owned the hardware-based router market. Cisco, confronting decreasing market sales and facing competition from Steelhead, is jockeying early to stay on top.


Microsoft Releases IE 4.0 to Beta
Microsoft has released Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0 to beta testing and has put new information about IE 4.0 on its Web site. The new interface is designed to "take over the desktop" and has many new features, including a shell with a dockable toolbar and search pane, auto-complete typing in the address box, and a different method for accessing favorite sites. The beta also adds Web tasks to the Start menu and lets you access Navigation history by pressing the Back and Forward buttons.

Additional improvements include background printing and the ability to select which documents in a frame to print. Users can install only the shell upgrade or the entire Active Desktop package, which integrates the browser with the operating system. The new version presents a good opportunity for a sneak preview of the new look and feel for Windows 97 and Windows NT 5.0. Getting familiar with Microsoft's Active Server technology may be a great idea because NT 5.0 will rely heavily on this technology. To learn more about IE 4.0, point your Web browser to: http://www.microsoft.com/ie/ie40.


Three Security Bugs in Internet Explorer 3.x
The Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser hosts three bugs that let an intruder perform actions on someone else's computer. Three students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute discovered the first bug in the IE Web browser and posted their discovery on the Internet after notifying Microsoft of the problem. (Microsoft posted a fix 48 hours after learning about the problem.) The hole, which lets an intruder do a vast array of things to the target machine--including wiping out the hard disk or emailing files, is launched when a user unknowingly clicks on a particular link embedded in a Web page. The hole is present because of the way Windows and Explorer handle shortcuts and quick links, such as the icons on your desktop--which are shortcuts to programs and files.

In a twist of fate, on two consecutive days following the announcement of the first bug, Microsoft received information about two other major security bugs, making a grand total of three discoveries in one week! The two other bugs present considerable security risk by letting a Web link launch programs.

The second bug, which University of Maryland students discovered, works by creating a URL that points to a remote file on some other system. When someone on that system clicks on the URL, that system downloads the file and runs it without warning the user. The third bug, which students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered, lets a Web link take advantage of .isp file links, which can also launch local programs on the local machine--like the first bug does. These bugs were also reported to exist in the IE 4.0 beta.

The interesting point here is that while everyone is complaining about ActiveX and Java security, no one seems to notice the dangerous little troublemakers right under their noses. The bottom line is that nothing is any more secure than you make it, and no matter who the developer is, someone will eventually discover problematic oversights.

If your shop is running IE 3.0 or 3.01 for Windows 95 or Windows NT, be sure you install the patch right away. You'll find it on Microsoft's IE Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/ie.

ASP Security Hole
Microsoft's Active Server Pages (ASP) files have a problem: A user can download the .asp file before it has been processed. Doing so could reveal sensitive information about user IDs and passwords if the .asp file is used to access other system resources, such as a SQL database. Appending a period to the end of the ASP URL causes the problem, which is not limited to .asp files: .idc, .htx, and other similar file types are all vulnerable.

An anonymous Web site operator whose site lists all known Windows NT security holes said, "This is one of many security problems that will inevitably surface in 1997. Now that NT has caught on like wildfire, users everywhere are hacking away at it looking for problems--which is really a good thing. Several new Web sites are dedicated to NT security now, which shows a high level of user interest in keeping this operating system secure. If Microsoft doesn't continually address the newfound security concerns immediately, those site operators will inform the world of how to break in, which is basically egg on Microsoft's face, and bad press for NT.

"In the past, we've had to pay Microsoft $150 to report a security bug using the support line, and then wait for a refund--which is plain silly. Now, instead, we just post it on the Internet, send it to the press, and let Microsoft know it's there--deciding how and when to handle it is up to them­and thanks to this technique, a bug is usually fixed pretty fast."

You can circumvent the ASP security hole by segregating your executable files in a separate directory, then removing READ permissions from the directory, and allowing only the EXECUTE permissions to be set. Microsoft released a post-Service Pack 2 hot-fix. You can get it at ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/bussys/winnt/winnt-public/fixes/usa/nt40. The hot-fixes directory has all the latest patches for known problems.


Is ActiveX a Little Too Active?
Brad Silverberg, Microsoft's senior vice president, addresses head-on the recent security questions about malicious, unsigned controls. In a letter posted on Microsoft's Web site, he talks about the recent demonstration on German television, that showed an ActiveX control that looks for a running copy of Quicken and inserts a transaction to remove money from the user's account. The letter assures us that Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0 has safeguards to protect against such a threat, and points out that such a threat is not unique to ActiveX but is also a problem in Java and other Web-based executables.

The harsh reality is that any type of Web control is potentially dangerous, and the only way to be safe is to disable this functionality in your Web browser, turning it on only while you need it. Check Microsoft's new Web page, http://www.microsoft.com/security, security information.


The BackOffice Accounting Challenge

The event will never rival a celebrity sports challenge, but in Los Angeles last January, accounting software vendors had a contest: the BackOffice Accounting Challenge. Sponsored by Controller Magazine, Windows NT Magazine, and Microsoft as part of the SoftEx in Accounting and Finance trade show, the challenge provided an opportunity for vendors to demonstrate how their accounting solutions perform in a particular business scenario. The payoff was two awards: Best Accounting Functionality and Best Technology Integration.

What Is BackOffice Accounting?
BackOffice accounting is the software market sector that delivers financial, supply chain (distribution), and manufacturing applications for use on Microsoft's BackOffice software platform. True BackOffice accounting applications are Microsoft-certified as "Designed For BackOffice," offer 32-bit client and server software running on Windows NT, can use the Microsoft SQL Server relational database management system (RDBMS), and integrate with one or more BackOffice software components. Of the vendors with products that meet these criteria, three--Great Plains Software, Solomon Software, and State Of The Art (SOTA)--took the challenge and participated in the event.

All the participants shipped their BackOffice accounting products in 1996. Both Great Plains Software's Dynamics C/S+ and Solomon IV for Windows (SQL Server Edition) are new versions of existing product lines, reconfigured to use the SQL Server RDBMS. SOTA's Acuity Financials is a new product line. All these products are steps toward a complete suite of financial and distribution modules for BackOffice Accounting; none offers any manufacturing modules except through third-party partnerships. For a full buyers' guide to BackOffice accounting solutions, see the special supplement on this topic, published with the April issues of Controller Magazine and Windows NT Magazine.

The Challenge Format
In the challenge, each vendor demonstrated its product in a business scenario. The scenario required vendors to create structures and transactions to support multicurrency payable and receivable transactions, process a transaction workflow in both modules, pass data to the general ledger, and show inquiry and reporting functions.

Judges for the challenge were Greg Northrup, publisher of Controller Magazine; Mark Smith, publisher and editorial director of Windows NT Magazine; and Stewart McKie, president of PinPoint. The judges scored the products' functionality by awarding 1 point if the product completed a step in the scenario and 2 points if the product excelled in meeting the requirements. Vendors earned 5 bonus points for specific innovations, such as email integration, imaging, Internet connectivity, or close integration with Microsoft Office. Because the scenario was simple, final scores were close but consistent across the judges' score cards.

The Demonstrations
Each vendor had 45 minutes for a presentation, and all the demonstrations came off without a hitch. The scenario highlighted some of the products' sophisticated multicurrency functionality, which is usually associated with high-end enterprise accounting software rather than with these vendors or this price point (typically $10,000 to $25,000 per module).

Great Plains Software's Dynamics C/S+. Great Plains Software demonstrated Dynamics C/S+, which is written in the company's 4GL, Dexterity. C/S+ is the client/server version of the Dynamics suite. Great Plains claims it has installed Dynamics C/S+ on NT in more than 4000 sites. Great Plains demonstrated primarily basic accounting functionality, although Dynamics also integrates well with other technology, such as Lotus Notes and Watermark imaging software.

In the challenge, each vendor demonstrated its product in a business scenario.

Dynamics uses a nontraditional accounting interface, which people either love or hate. Dynamics bases its interface on accounting tasks such as processes, reports, and transactions, instead of using arbitrary modules such as payables or receivables. The task options can cross conventional module boundaries, and users can assemble the options to fit their work needs. Users select tasks from customized pop-up menus. Dynamics uses task checklists to walk users through the setup of system structures--for example, to build multicurrency facilities logically by first defining currencies, then exchange rates and translation rules. Generally, the judges found that Dynamics C/S+'s functionality was a shade better in many areas than the other products' functionality.

Solomon Software's Solomon IV for Windows (SQL Server Edition). Solomon demonstrated Solomon IV, which is written in Microsoft Visual Basic (VB). Solomon IV has interesting functionality: the ability to toggle views of multicurrency data between home and source currency, flexible payment selection and point-and-click check voiding, password-protected transaction entry for documents above a predefined value, and an account inquiry screen that shows period and year-to-date balances for the current fiscal year.

Solomon IV also integrates technology well in several areas. Because it uses VB, Solomon IV lets users customize the application on the fly by modifying the events associated with its functional objects or adding scripts to customize the business rules associated with an object. Solomon IV has also integrated the popular Crystal Reports report writer so users can access the definitions of all the reports in the package and customize the reports to fit their business requirements. Solomon IV's customization capabilities make it an excellent choice for value-added resellers of vertical market accounting software or for businesses with in-house VB expertise.

State Of The Art's Acuity Financials. SOTA demonstrated Acuity Financials, the newest of the three products. Acuity draws its strength from using the latest technology, such as VB 4.0 and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) automation. Like Solomon IV, Acuity is written in VB, integrates the Crystal Reports engine, and uses OLE automation in its functional object design and for closer integration with Microsoft's Office suite.

The integration with Office packages, such as Word for creating collection letters and Excel for entering budget values, is slick. Acuity Financials integrates email by using Microsoft Exchange to route invoice approvals. The package uses a Visioneer PaperPort desktop scanner and software to image an invoice document and then attach the image to a payables transaction. In the demonstration, SOTA previewed its forthcoming Internet accounting capabilities by using a Microsoft ActiveX component to select a vendor and make an invoice inquiry within a desktop browser. Acuity is also impressive functionally, and the judges unanimously liked the Acuity GUI, which is fully Windows 95-compliant and looked very clean and easy to use.

And the Winners Are...
The judges gave the Best Accounting Functionality award to Dynamics C/S+ and the Best Technology Integration award to Acuity Financials. Although great for the vendors' marketing machine, awards are only an indication of a package's suitability for your business. Nothing beats a thorough analysis and mapping of your specific critical functional needs and business processes onto the package's functionality.

The real winners in BackOffice accounting are the users. Microsoft BackOffice is an accounting platform that is lower cost, easier to administer, and technologically richer than any previous platform, whether mainframe-, mini-, or UNIX-based. However, BackOffice is not as scalable or as proven in handling large volumes of data as many previous popular accounting platforms; these characteristics are essential for managing the corporate accounting of large companies. But most leading accounting vendors are shipping products for BackOffice, and these products are becoming functionally broader and deeper all the time. As the enterprise and middle market vendors converge on the BackOffice platform, expect to see more pressure to lower the costs of software acquisition and implementation as well as some interesting bundling initiatives.

Great Plains Software
800-456-0025
Web: http://www.gps.com
Solomon Software
800-476-5666
Web: http://www.solomon.com
State Of The Art
800-854-3415
Web: http://www.sota.com
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