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ISSUE 502: The high-tech office- June 8 1999


Both Apple and Microsoft system upgrades
will break away from current standards

In last week's column, we started to look at the plans both Microsoft and Apple have for the future of your computer. Each offers a new, but modest update of their current operating systems.

My take, both on Microsoft's Windows 98 Second Edition and Apple's Mac OS 8.6, is that both pieces of software deliver what they promise, but neither is compelling enough that most of us need go out of our way to get them.

But both companies have bigger things in store for the near future with plans to offer more goodies for the new versions of their operating systems. It is, however, at the cost of a clear break with current standards.

(As an aside, I find it interesting how similar the plans of these often bitter rivals seem to be.)

In terms of Apple, ever since the company purchased Steve Jobs' NeXT company, it has promised to merge NeXT's advanced operating system features with the familiar Mac look and feel. Now the operating system is known as "OS X" (as in the Roman numeral 10, not
X-Files). Built on top of the Unix-
like Mach kernal, the NeXT OS offers the heavy-duty multitasking and stability that the Mac has lacked in comparison to its Windows competition.

It's not a big deal to get such features to run on Apple's hardware. For example, users can already get a version of Linux to run on a PowerMac. The trick, however, has been to give it a Mac-like front end, while enabling users to continue running their collection of Mac applications.

Apple promises that OS X will manage to be all things to all users, at least for those users who own G3 Macs. Older applications will continue to run, though probably not very fast and without the benefits of OS X's more powerful multitasking and crash protection.

Many older applications, Apple suggests, can be easily rewritten using the company's Carbon programming technology, which runs efficiently under both old and new Mac operating systems. Finally, Apple hopes to see new applications written specifically for OS X, but which won't run at all on older Mac hardware and software.

Look for the general release of OS X late in 1999 or early next year.

OS X Server is out now, providing the friendly Mac interface on top of powerful network server software. The software alone costs about $600 and a hardware/software bundle runs about $6,000.

OS X Server is a good choice for Mac-only shops and an appealing choice for an Internet server. But because there is a lack of direct support for Windows machines, don't expect it to be popular serving networks with a mix of machines.

Microsoft's Windows 2000 (W2K--and hold the jokes comparing W2K to Y2K, please) seems to be debuting in about the same time frame as OS X. Look for a fall general release (there have been hints of October 6 as the target date).

Despite the name, it's not a successor to the company's current Windows 98. In fact, Microsoft isn't targeting home and small business Windows 95/98 users as potential upgraders.

Instead, W2K is the successor to the company's NT 4.0 and, like that version, is aimed primarily at large enterprises.

The product will be sold in a range of versions, including the desktop version, Windows 2000 Professional, and Server, Advanced Server and Datacenter versions
for increasingly large enterprise

W2K aims to add Plug and Play technology to the NT platform, which will allow it to support a wider range of hardware add-ons than the current version. Active Directory on the Server versions aims to make it easier for NT network administrators
to manage large groups
of users, printers and

Microsoft is promising big improvements in reliability, including far fewer "blue screens of death" that plague current NT systems, and less need to reboot when adding software, hardware or network services. W2K also promises to better protect system DLL files, thereby solving a frequent cause
of problems in current Windows systems.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft is making W2K widely available even far in advance of the software's release. Microsoft's Corporate Preview Program is offering the chance to buy a copy of Beta 3, a software version that's still in the testing stage.

About $95 gets you a copy of the Server version with a licence to install the Professional version on up to five desktops. More than 500,000 copies have been sold, with several computer manufacturers offering customers the option of getting Beta 3 pre-installed on new systems.

While I haven't tested Beta 3, word on the street is that as a desktop operating system, W2K Professional is solid, and close to being ready for release. The Server version and,
in particular, the Active Directory features are not there yet, but that's why they call it a beta release. Be aware that not all Windows applications can be guaranteed to run under W2K. There are problems even with some applications that work under the current NT 4.0.

If you want to try W2K, check *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan