Windows IT Pro: A 15-Year Perspective

The founder of Windows NT Magazine, predecessor to Windows IT Pro, looks back at the publication's history

Editor's note: Mark Smith is the founder of Windows NT Magazine and served as the editorial director of Windows NT Magazine and Windows 2000 Magazine from 1995 through 2000.

In August 1994, my colleague Tim Daniels and I were working as systems administrators for a small publishing company called Duke Communications International in Loveland, Colorado. We were discussing our frustration with Novell NetWare, which at the time had 70 percent of the file and print market share. Tim suggested we try Windows NT, a new Microsoft Server OS that had no market share. I asked him to pick up a magazine on Windows NT from the local bookstore. He returned and said, "There are three magazines for IBM OS/2, but nothing for Windows NT. Why don't we start an NT magazine?"

Tim and I were IT guys, not publishers. Yet we worked for a company that published one magazine called NEWS 3X/400, which was focused on the AS/400 market. And we knew what we liked to read: lots of how-to articles, product reviews, and practical tips from practitioners. So, we built a business plan and decided to pitch to Microsoft the idea of launching Windows NT Magazine.

After several months, we finally got our first meeting at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond. The pitch was simple. We wanted to launch an enterprise magazine, like NEWS 3X/400 for the NT market. Microsoft said "yes" immediately. Then we asked for access to their registered users and advertisers. Again, yes. Then we asked for the right to the name "Windows NT Magazine." Again, yes. So, we left Microsoft's office with access to the name, registered users, and commitment for advertising. Was our pitch really that good? Probably not, but our timing was perfect. Microsoft needed a vehicle for marketing the brand-new server OS, and our publication stood to meet that need.

At the time of our visit, Microsoft was telling the world that it was running its company, with 16,000 employees, on Windows NT. In reality, Microsoft was running its back office on 14 IBM AS/400s. In fact, one week before our meeting, Jim Allchin, then VP of Microsoft's Business System Group, had given his team a challenge: Unless they could make NT into a platform that ran the kind of line-of-business applications that the AS/400 did, they (and the platform) would fail. So here we walk in, a week after Allchin tendered his challenge, with our pitch to do an AS/400-type magazine for the Windows NT audience.

In addition, we had inside help from Solveig Whittle, the marketing director for Microsoft's Business Systems Group. Solveig believed that working with an independent publisher—in person, in print, and online—was the key to success in building a new IT enthusiast audience around Windows NT. Microsoft had zero market share in the enterprise. Windows NT Magazine promised to be an independent voice for early adopters of enterprise NT. We needed each other.

Early Adopters
Tim Daniels and I did our first trade show at Tech Ed in Atlanta in April 1995. We bought a bunch of "We Helped Launch Windows NT Magazine" T-shirts with a mockup of our magazine cover printed on the back. We stapled them onto the back of our booth with a sign that read, "Win a Free T-Shirt." Our booth was mobbed. More than 3,000 IT administrators filled out a survey for a chance to win a shirt. People were wearing our shirts all over downtown Atlanta. A month later, we sent those people a subscription card and got an 85 percent response.

The first issue landed on readers' desks on August 24, 2005. We intentionally timed it with the official launch of Windows 95. The early adopters of NT knew that NT was the future and would eventually replace Windows 95 (it did). We were all part of a club of believers. After six months, we had we had 50,000 subscribers. And the momentum was just beginning. Even the president of Banyan, which at that time had about 10 percent of the file and print server market share, after announcing that Banyan would no longer release new versions of the Banyan Vines network OS recommended every Banyan Admin migrate to Windows NT. Windows NT was fast becoming a juggernaut in the enterprise server market.

In Tune with the NT World
Windows NT Magazine competed with some of the biggest and best technology publishers on the market. Our competitors outspent us on marketing by millions. We focused on the kind of content that helps IT administrators do their jobs: Hands-on, how-to, and internals features articles, tech tips, and stories about problems and solutions based on real-world experience. The Windows NT Magazine staff and writers were the best in the business. Guys like Mark Minasi were already legends in the technology world. Some of our writers already had an online following and we introduced them to a print audience. Other writers, like Mark Russinovich, were born out of controversy.

In 1996, Microsoft announced it would give away its web server (Microsoft IIS) with Windows NT Server. Overnight, at least 10 competing web server products were dropped from the market. O'Reilly Software decided to fight back and started to market their web server product as an NT Workstation add-on. They claimed that NT Workstation and NT Server were similar products. Mark Russinovich, who that year had co-founded Winternals Software and was its chief software architect, wrote a utility called NTTune that could turn NT Workstation into NT Server by altering two registry values, thus proving O'Reilly's claim. Microsoft was furious and embarrassed, since the cost of NT Server was significantly more expensive than NT Workstation.

For weeks, Microsoft's OS Core team, led by Mark Lucovsky, created updates to NT Workstation to defeat the NTTune utility. Finally, Lucovsky called Russinovich and asked him for the secret. Russinovich said, "Do you give up?" Lucovsky said, "Yes."  Russinovich never told Lucovsky how he did it. In spite of serious warnings from Microsoft, we added Russinovich as a regular columnist and speaker for the publication. His first article, "Inside the Difference Between Windows NT Workstation and Windows NT Server," was published in November 1996. Jim Allchin and Mark Lucovsky were so impressed by the article's accuracy that Allchin offered to fly Russinovich to Redmond for an interview at Microsoft. Russinovich said no. Of course, Russinovich eventually said "yes" to Microsoft, when it acquired Winternals Software in 2006 and he became a Technical Fellow in the Platform and Services Division at Microsoft.

Windows 2000 Magazine
During 1999, Microsoft announced its plans to drop the "NT" and go with the release year as in Windows 2000. One reason was that "NT" is owned by Northern Telecom, and Microsoft had to pay royalties to use the name "NT."  We decided to re-title the publication with the March 2000 issue to coincide with the launch of Windows 2000 Server. The March 2000 issue was one of our biggest issues at 240 pages. I thought, "This is as good as it's going to get." Through acquisitions and organic growth, we were reaching more than two million readers a month through our 35 websites, 17 email newsletters, Connections conferences, print newsletters, and magazines, which were published in 13 languages in 160 countries. At the peak of the magazine's success, Duke Communications' owner sold the company to Penton Media—a major publisher and producer of business-to-business media—giving Windows 2000 Magazine the financial and marketing resources needed to serve its readers more information in more ways, especially on the web.

Likewise, Microsoft grew its Server OS market share from zero to 70 percent in that same six-year period, turning the Business Systems Group into a $1.5 billion division with Microsoft. Now Microsoft was the dominant player in the enterprise, and Linux was the upstart, ready to eat Microsoft's lunch. In reality, Linux simply finished off NetWare and UNIX and blocked Microsoft from becoming a monopoly. During that time period, Microsoft was pushing out a variety of server products to cement its presence in the enterprise. If you perused a list of articles published in the magazine in the 1996 to 2000 timeframe, you would find a plethora of content dedicated to explaining Microsoft's array of server technologies—Windows 2000 Server and Win2K Datacenter Server, Microsoft BizTalk Server, Systems Management Server, Terminal Server, and the BackOffice suite, among others—to help the magazine's IT admin readers work with those products.

Keeping Pace with a Changing Market
Today, with Windows NT's successors, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008, Microsoft continues to hang on to its position as the enterprise computing platform leader. Current data from IDC shows that Windows still dominates the enterprise server OS market, with Windows OSs comprising 73.9 percent of units installed in Q4 2009 (compared with Linux at 21.2 percent and UNIX at 4.4 percent—source: But with the growth of cloud and mobile computing along with increasing usage of open source platforms challenge Microsoft's industry leadership. Russinovich, who is now working on Microsoft's Cloud OS (Azure) team, offers his take on where business technology is headed: "I believe the future is mobile cloud computing. The mobile phone is the new PC, especially in the developing world."

I can see Mark's point in my work with Univicity, a software company I co-founded for the humanitarian industry, focused on mobile cloud computing for the developing world. In the United States, you can invest a lot of money in IT to get a 3 to 5 percent improvement in productivity. The developing world and the humanitarian industry that serves it are using paper-based systems circa 1980. It's not difficult to make a 300 percent improvement in productivity by skipping generations of technology, going directly to mobile/cloud computing environments.

The current market reminds me a bit of the NT market back in 1995. As there was then, there is now a tremendous opportunity for innovation. Over the next 15 years, the entire world will be connected to the Internet, and mobile/cloud computing could well be the norm. Although Microsoft acknowledges that its enterprise server line, especially Windows Server and SQL Server, will continue to be its bread and butter for the next several years, the company's long-term focus is on cloud computing, according to Microsoft president Bob Muglia. (See "Microsoft Pushes Hybrid Cloud Vision at TechEd 2010" and "Microsoft’s Muglia See Enterprise Demand Pick Up Coming Soon".)

In light of the changing landscape of enterprise computing from on-premises to cloud or a hybrid cloud including a mix of both cloud and on-premises applications, the opportunities for Windows IT Pro to serve as IT pros' primary information resource abound as they did 15 years ago. Although enterprise technology continues to evolve, something that I don't foresee changing is the magazine's commitment to the Microsoft Windows IT pro community. The need for an accurate, independent Microsoft technical resource is as great as it was in 1995 when Windows NT Magazine began.

Mark Smith ([email protected]) is the founder of Windows NT Magazine (now Windows IT Pro). His new company, Univicity, is helping to deploy mobile banking throughout Haiti. Univicity is also helping to obtain one million birth certificates for the children of Haiti.


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