Windows NT 4.0-- should it be part of your
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1996. First
published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, October, 1996
Just when maybe you thought it was safe to preload all
with one operating system, Windows 95, Microsoft has gone and done it
the time you read this, version 4.0 of Windows NT will be making its
through the OEM channels, aiming to be installed on the computers you
distribute, and sell.
What is NT, and where does it fit in Microsoft's
plans-and more important,
where should it fit in your plans and your product line?
A Little History
Microsoft has a long history of taking several
generations of a product
before finally getting it right-but then releasing software that
the marketplace. Windows 1.0, for example, was released (very late) in
November, 1985-it wasn't until 1990 and Windows 3.0 that it's use
widespread. The mass popularity of the Win 3.x product line came as a
surprise-not least of all to Microsoft. Through the end of the 1980s,
along with most self-appointed computer experts expected that the
would belong to OS/2, then a joint Microsoft-IBM project.
But the success of Windows 3.0 also pointed out its
on top of 1981's DOS, it lacked long file name support and had a
habit of crashing, just when you started to rely on it. Taking OS/2
from their divorce with IBM, Microsoft announced an industrial-strength
alternative-Windows NT, to be completely rebuilt from scratch. To
head the development team, they recruited respected software developer
Dave Cutler, from Digital Equipment. NT was to have two major
a network server, bringing the ease of a graphical interface into a
dominated by Novell Netware, and as a workstation, in competition with
a wide range of Unix machines. NT was designed, like Unix, to be
run on a range of different processors, not just the Intel X-86 line,
DOS, Windows, and OS/2. As well, it would support machines with more
one processor, letting it out-perform standard DOS and Windows. It
feature industrial-strength security and stability.
But NT 3.1, the first version (named to appear to be
in common with
just-released Windows 3.1), like many other Microsoft first releases,
the market. It looked just like Windows 3.1, but ran slower. It took up
(for its time), a lot of hard drive space, and required a lot of
compared with today, large hard drives and ram were expensive and rare.
It isolated software from direct access to the hardware; this was vital
for improving stability, but meant that many DOS programs, and some
Windows programs simply wouldn't run. And there were virtually no
Windows programs to take advantage of NT's strengths.
The next versions, NT 3.5 and 3.51 were
better-performance was improved,
ram requirements were a bit lower. And Microsoft made a clever
developing Windows 95 for the mass market, they announced that 32-bit
for Win 95 wanting official Microsoft approval would need to run under
NT as well. (Or at least refuse to run gracefully!) In a stroke, they
a critical mass of applications that provided native performance under
NT as well as Win 95. NT 3.51 picked up sales, and could run on RISC
including Digital's Alpha, the MIPS series (mostly on machines from
and on PowerPCs, it still featured the now old-fashioned Windows 3.x
Enter Version 4
Version 4 brings the newer, Windows 95-style user
interface to NT. Like
earlier versions, it comes in two flavours: server and workstation.
going to focus on the later-it sells for less, and will be used by more
users. As the name suggests, the higher-priced Server version is aimed
at corporate local area network servers, replacing and working
Novell Netware servers.
While NT 4.0, like earlier versions, supports
and a variety of CPU models, the bulk of its sales are expected to be
single-processor Intel (or Intel-clone) computers-Pentiums and
In theory, it will run on a machine with as little as 12 megs ram...
then again, Windows 95 will run, in theory on a 4 meg machine. NT on a
16 meg machine is like Win 95 on an 8 meg machine... the bare minimum
acceptable low-end performance. Expect to install at least 24 megs
32 megs) to keep users happy running NT while multitasking a couple of
large applications. Set aside 90-120 megs of disk space for this
system. With 1 gig and bigger hard drives now standard, this should not
be a problem.
NT 4.0 will run on a 486, but expect to install it on
Pentiums or better.
Unlike Windows 95, it makes good use of the newer Pentium-Pro series
like OS/2, it is a fully 32-bit operating system, and when running
software, it will fly on a Pentium-Pro.
It falls behind Windows 95, however, in a couple of
areas. Plug and
Play is not yet well-supported. In fact, in installing NT onto a new
it may make sense to first install Win 95. Note the hardware settings
by Win 95, and write them down, using that information to properly set
up NT. As well, NT 4.0 uses a new driver model-as a result, neither Win
95 or older NT drivers can be used. Initially, fewer hardware options
supported. Make sure any hardware on your systems are on the approved
NT 4.0 list available on the Internet at www.microsoft.com. To make
worse, unlike Windows 95, you cannot use older DOS-level drivers for
devices. If there is no NT 4.0 driver, you're out of luck.
It also doesn't support Advanced Power Management or
PC-Cards... as a result, it is a poorer choice of an operating system
laptops than Windows 95.
Along with the new, Windows 95-style interface,
however, NT includes
support for most of Windows 95's new programming
DirectDraw, DirectInput, and DirectSound are supported. As a result, NT
4.0 will provide a better multimedia and game platform than earlier
of NT; if users expect to run many DOS games, however, they should
to boot to DOS... NT 4.0 does support multiple Operating Systems. All
of NT also support the NTFS file system, which provides better support
for large hard disks (greater than 1 gig) than the old DOS FAT or even
Win 95's new FAT-32.
Your Questions Answered
* Will NT 4.0 replace Windows 95?
No. Windows 95 will remain popular, and will outsell
NT for the next
few years. It remains a better choice for most home and small business
systems, and for virtually all portable computers. Expect to have to
both Windows 95 and NT 4.0 as options. In fact, some users will prefer
to stick with tried-and-true Windows 3.1-20 million units of that will
be sold in 1996.
* What systems should come with NT 4.0 standard?
Expect your standard NT 4.0 system to be a high-end
Pentium, or even
better, a Pentium-Pro, with 32-megs of ram and a 2 gig hard drive.
a CD-ROM and 16-bit sound card, but make sure that both (along with
video card) have NT 4.0 drivers (older NT drivers don't count). But be
sure to include DOS and Windows 3.1 drivers as well, with all systems,
allowing users the option to boot to DOS if needed.
* Who will be the target NT 4.0 customer?
NT 4.0 is being targeted at a business users,
connected to a local area
network. (You might want to make an NE-2000-compatible Ethernet card
on all machines). As well, expect some sales to so-called power-users
home or in small businesses, the buyers who want to be on the
Or anyone wanting to purchase a Pentium-Pro and make full use of its