Products that touched our hearts and souls

We all come to the Windows NT table with our own agendas and our own baggage. Although we work with NT, we are all different; each of us is the sum of our unique life experiences. Therefore, when you ask a group of industry professionals--in this case, the contributing editors of Windows NT Magazine--to pick the best products we encountered in 1996, you get...well, you get a lot of different opinions! Fortunately, this diversity makes the list of NT products that we like truly interesting--it has something for everyone and illustrates NT's versatility.

Our picking so many different products highlights an important development in the industry: The market now abounds with NT products--a major change from only a year ago. When we launched this magazine in the fall of 1995, we worried that we wouldn't find enough products to keep filling the review section of our magazine. Today, we receive products from every corner of the industry--we have rack after rack of storage shelves jammed full of products awaiting review. Software developers and hardware manufacturers are rushing to the NT market with unbridled lust and blind ambition.

We picked the products that touched our hearts and souls, the products that thrilled us to our technical marrow. Chances are good that you won't agree with some of our selections, but that's OK--the NT table is big and round, and everyone's views are welcome.


Microsoft's Exchange Client
Two years ago, email was a nice thing to have. Today, email is an absolute must! I receive a lot of messages, and I'm hardly ever in one place for very long; accessing my email from the road, the Windows NT Magazine Lab, or my office must work first time, every time. Enter Microsoft Exchange. First, Exchange keeps all the data on a central server, which frees up precious disk space on my laptop. If I need to store sensitive information on my personal system, Exchange lets me. Add in digital signatures and encryption to safeguard the latest gossip and automatic synchronization of data whether I'm online or offline, and you start to scratch the surface of why I like the Exchange client.

The set of tools that the Exchange client offers is better than any other email package I've used. My favorite is the Inbox Assistant tool. With Inbox Assistant, I can intelligently file incoming messages to appropriate folders. Furthermore, Inbox Assistant can notify me of important messages in a variety of ways.

Microsoft
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/exchange
Price: $54 for a client access license

Microsoft's Exchange Server 4.0
The other half of the email equation is Exchange Server. We get a lot of mail at Windows NT Magazine, and we need to verify all message transfers. Exchange Server lets you keep a history of sent and received messages by server, and you can search them by author, recipient, date, and so forth. Because the server (rather than the client) stores information by default, I don't have to worry about backing up my messages; message backup is part of the routine backup of all data. You also get public folders that let you exchange information with other Exchange users (and soon, with anyone using a Web browser) in a one-to-many fashion.

Form support is another useful feature of Exchange Server. You can just do so many cool things with forms! Tight integration with Microsoft Schedule+ rounds out the overall appeal. The ability to administer Exchange from one interface makes this messaging platform a real enterprise player.

Microsoft
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web:http://www.microsoft.com/exchange
Price: $529

Iomega's Jaz Drive
It's big, it's removable, it's fast, and it's green. It's Iomega's 1GB Jaz drive, and I think I'm in love. As applications get larger and larger, disk space becomes a valued commodity. Even if price is no object, physical space is--most desktop machines have only a handful of available drive bays. The solution to this storage problem? Removable storage. It lets you insert and remove media cartridges as needed.

The Jaz drive is available as an internal unit and an external unit, both of which connect to a SCSI adapter. The external unit includes a SCSI-to-parallel adapter, which lets you use the drive on machines without SCSI controllers.

Using Winchester hard drive technology, the Jaz boasts performance comparable to standard hard disks. Using Windows NT's Performance Monitor (Perfmon), I clocked data transfer on the external Jaz (running off an Adaptec 2940 SCSI adapter) at an average speed of 2.5MB per second (MBps). In contrast, the Quantum Fireball hard drives in the system averaged a data transfer rate of 3MBps. Seek times are equally impressive. In short, the Jaz is fast enough to use as a primary hard drive, rather than as a backup device.

The Jaz has only this downside: The price of the entire ensemble (the drive plus the free cartridge) is a bit steep compared to more conventional forms of storage. But if you buy another cartridge at about $120 ($99 each if purchased in volume), you end up saving money vis-à-vis purchasing two 1GB hard disks.

Meg for meg and dollar for dollar, the Jaz drive is probably the most useful piece of hardware I've ever purchased. After all, something is awfully empowering about holding a 1GB cartridge in your hand.

Iomega

800-697-8833
Web: http://www.iomega.com
Price: $499 external drive, $399 internal drive

PointCast's PointCast Network
As a certifiable news junkie, I often waste the better part of a workday retrieving scattered news stories on various Web sites. No more. PointCast Network (PCN) lets me preselect the news I want to see and then retrieves the day's stories without manual intervention. Equipped with direct links to Reuters, The Associated Press, Business Wire, PR Newswire, Time Warner magazines (People, Time, Money), and other news sources, the PCN servers can get you the latest news all day, every day. PCN also includes NASDAQ stock feeds and realtime weather maps.

Sound good? Advertisers support PCN, so you look at some intrusive ads while perusing the news, but that's a small tradeoff for a free service like this one. Unfortunately, PCN requires a substantial amount of memory (NT's Task Manager reports a 6MB footprint), and because each news story is a separate document, PCN can quickly eat up all your available bandwidth. Multiple users who retrieve news updates from PCN can quickly bring a network to its knees. You can, however, set up a proxy server for PCN to go through.

PointCast
408-253-0894
Web: http://www.pointcast.com
Price: Download for free at PointCast's Web site

Microsoft's FrontPage 97
The best Web authoring tool is one that doesn't even look like an HTML editor. After all, if you're familiar with a word processor or other productivity applications, why should you have to spend time learning a new interface just to design and publish a Web page?

In FrontPage 97, Microsoft built on the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSYWIG) simplicity of FrontPage 1.1. The new version improves the user interface and adds advanced features, such as the ability to drill down directly to the raw HTML code to add or edit tags by hand, for Web authoring veterans. FrontPage 97 looks like an Office product but feels like an industrial-strength editor--the best of both worlds.

FrontPage 97 also installs server extensions for NT Server's Internet Information Server (IIS) and NT Workstation's Peer Web Services, so you can run FrontPage-specific active content on your existing Web server. One innovative server-side feature in FrontPage is the WebBot. WebBots are dynamic objects that perform interactive Common Gateway Interface (CGI) tasks without CGI scripting.

The package ships with a Bonus Pack, which consists of 500MB of clipart; Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0; and Microsoft Image Composer, a bitmap editor that simplifies creating home-brew graphics and animated GIFs. FrontPage has earned a permanent spot on my desktop, and its advanced features and integration with Office 97 provide the staying power I need.

Microsoft
206-882-8080
or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/frontpage
Price: $149

Intel's Pentium Pro Processor
The Pentium Pro really legitimizes Windows NT. As you well know, the Pentium Pro is optimized for 32-bit processing. Windows 95 does not take advantage of the CPU, but NT does--and does very well. Performance on Pentium Pro systems is impressive and provides competition for the far more expensive RISC systems. This processor has done much to popularize NT.

Intel
408-765-8080
Web: http://www.intel.com
Price: Contact your local Intel office for prices

Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0
The version 4.0 release of Windows NT is very important for a host of reasons. Many businesses resisted any upgrade or movement to 32-bit applications before NT 4.0. I must admit that parts of NT 4.0 are far from stellar, but the overall improvements in NT surpass any real or perceived problems with it. A side benefit of NT 4.0 is that many vendors now produce applications specifically for NT 4.0 (Pagemaker 6.5, for example).

Many professionals view moving the graphic device interface (GDI) to the kernel as NT 4.0's weakness. In fact, data to support this view is absent. The essential difference in robustness between NT 3.51 and 4.0 is simply not present, and rumors that NT 4.0 may cause the demise of NT are highly unfounded. All in all, NT 4.0 will improve the acceptance of Windows NT in businesses and with single users.

Microsoft
Windows NT Server 4.0 206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ntserver
Price: $809 for a 5-user version

Windows NT Workstation 4.0
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ntworkstation
Price: $319 for a 5-user version

High-Speed Network Adapters and ATM
Most contemporary networks suffer from serious bandwidth and performance issues. The standard 10 Base T network assumes that use of the bandwidth is restricted to no more than 50 percent to 60 percent at any time. When this number is reached, throughput drops off dramatically due to collisions. Asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), with its small packet size (actually a cell), has no collisions; the high-speed ATM is difficult to saturate. And even greater news: The falling cost of ATM cards and systems is making ATM competitive with high-speed Ethernet. ATM will help us get efficient network systems that are fun to use.

Whitetree
415-855-0855
Web: http://www.whitetree.com
Email: info@whitetree.com

Ascend's Pipeline Routers
Somebody at Ascend Communications is really thinking! Ascend recently acquired Morningstar Technologies, a company well known for its Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) drivers and packet filtering systems for TCP/IP networks running UNIX. Ascend immediately adapted the packet filtering technology to its Pipeline series of routers--a move that made the products instant hits in the security market. The Ascend system fills the low-priced end of the security spectrum with a high-value firewall.

The Ascend firewall system is a very robust implementation of a packet filtering system. You can easily configure it using an intuitive Windows-based utility. The system comes preconfigured with most popular Internet protocols, saving you a ton of work looking up all those port numbers and service names. (I configured my firewall in less than 30 minutes.) The firewall comes with some really great features: rejection of source routing, anti-spoofing, and anti-scanning. The firewall system provides an incredibly strong security barrier against intruders for my network (and my customers' networks).

The packet filtering firewall comes as an add-on option to the entire Pipeline series. Prices start around $500 for an unlimited license on a Pipeline 50 or 75 and increase to a maximum of about $4000 for an unlimited license on a MAX 4004 router. The price alone makes the firewall one heck of a bargain in today's market of high-priced security systems where the norm can easily reach $10,000.

If you've already got a Pipeline product, you can download a firmware upgrade and purchase the firewall license by telephone with a credit card. I highly recommend this product: If you connect your NT network to the Internet, this product is definitely for you.

Ascend
800-621-9578
Web: http://www.ascend.com
Price: Starts at $500 for an unlimited license on a Pipeline 50 or 75

LANWARE's NTManage 1.0
In one word: Wow. The Windows NT world needs this hot little piece of software. NTManage lets you know a lot about the status of your network. And when something goes wrong, NTManage signals you right away through a variety of methods such as on-screen messages, audible alerts, email alerts, and paging.

The LANWARE division of LANology, a Houston-based company, released NTManage in October 1996. CEO Bob Robinson said the company created the software in response to customer wishes and demands for a robust NT network-monitoring software package. The software is an overnight success: Notable organizations such as the New York Mayor's Office, Compaq Computers, and even the Pentagon have inquired about licensing the product.

The software monitors NT systems and services and TCP/IP-based network devices and services. It includes complete support for SNMP and has a built-in Management Information Base (MIB) compiler. The software can monitor services at the port level by looking into the port and determining whether the software is responding. The software can remotely monitor installed services on an NT machine--and start and stop them if they behave erratically or don't respond. NTManage can also shut down and reboot an NT server remotely.

The software's configuration tools let you draw a network map with OLE's drag-and-drop technology. The tools can even survey your network and TCP/IP subnets for TCP/IP devices that need monitoring. The upcoming release will run as a system service, and future versions will sport a Web-based interface for easy remote management and monitoring.

LANWARE
713-975-8050
Web: www.lanology.com/ntmanage
Email: ntmanage@lanology.com
Price: $1997 (single-server license); $1597 (additional server licenses)

MetaInfo's DNS 2.0
A little company from Washington state, MetaInfo, made a big splash in the Windows NT software market with version 2.0 of its Domain Name System (DNS) for NT. The product installs quickly and easily via an intuitive wizard. You simply answer the questions on each screen, and the installation program automatically builds the necessary tables. The software has three features that make it a winner in my book.

The first feature is the product's BIND compatibility, which simplifies UNIX-to-NT transitions. You can use pre-existing DNS tables from a UNIX system without any modification other than changing the file names.

The second feature is the product's integration with Microsoft's Windows Internet Name Service (WINS) server, which provides enhanced functionality for networks that use WINS and DHCP. When a query to the MetaInfo DNS server comes up empty, the server asks WINS for the address of a particular machine. This capability means you can use DHCP to dynamically assign IP addresses and can still access those host names and addresses through DNS using WINS as its partner.

The third feature is version 2.0's Web-based management interface. This integration lets you manage every aspect of the DNS server remotely with a standard Web browser. You can start, stop, and pause the service, and edit any of the tables it uses to answer DNS queries.

I've run MetaInfo's DNS service for more than two years on my own networks, and I can attest to its stability, functionality, and value. MetaInfo's DNS service greatly simplifies managing DNS records and handling lookups of host names associated with dynamically assigned IP addresses.

MetaInfo
206-674-3700
Web: http://www.metainfo.com
Price: $400

Microsoft's Windows NT Server 4.0
From my perspective, Windows NT Server 4.0 is the crème de la crème of Microsoft operating systems. First, it runs well on my laptop (unlike NT Server 3.51), so I can provide a powerful server solution wherever I happen to be. Second, NT Server 4.0 now includes NetWare file-and-print interoperability services--services that came as a separate package under version 3.51. The combination of the NetWare interoperability services and version 3.51's Mac and TCP/IP interoperability services yields an operating system that works with just about everything. Finally, the introduction of DNS for NT and its integration with WINS provides an invaluable bridge between Microsoft-centric WINS and DNS, the name server service of choice for the rest of the world. NT Server 4.0 is so impressive that I have a hard time downsizing to NT Workstation on non-server systems.

Microsoft
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ntserver
Price: $809 for a 5-user version

Octopus Technologies's Octopus
Data mirroring can be a complex, highly technical topic. Fortunately, Octopus Technologies delivers a solution (Octopus) so easy to implement and simple to use that you wonder why you waited so long to implement it. In a nutshell, Octopus software enables data mirroring between systems over high-speed LAN or low-speed WAN connections. You can use Octopus to mirror databases, directories, file groups, or entire disk drives. Mirroring can be one way, bidirectional, or multidirectional. Best of all, Octopus's mirroring is fast and nonintrusive--you won't even notice it's there. Octopus also includes failover options so that a server can pick up the load from a crashed server. But for my money, the heart of Octopus is its fast, efficient mirroring technology.

Octopus Technologies
215-321-8750 or 800-919-1009
Web: http://www.octopustech.com
Price: $999 Octopus Server; $249 ASO option

Cinco Networks's NetXRay
I'm a long-time network analyst, and that fact really influences this pick. From my perspective, NetXRay is a valuable tool for anyone responsible for (or interested in) the activity generated on a LAN. Wearing an interface adopted from NetWare's LANalyzer product, NetXRay presents information about your LAN activity in a readily accessible and easy-to-understand format. You can see overall network utilization, error rates, and more--you even can capture and view LAN messages to perform a detailed analysis of your traffic. With support for NetBEUI/NetBIOS, IPX/SPX, TCP/IP, AppleTalk, DECnet, and SNA protocol suites, NetXRay gives you a long, hard look into the inner workings of your LAN. No self-respecting network analyst or network consultant should leave home without this tool (I run NetXRay on my laptop so that I always have it with me).

Cinco Networks
770-671-9272 or 800-671-9272
Email: sales@cinco.com
Web: http://www.cinco.com
Price: $1295

Tyan's S1662 Dual Pentium Pro 440FX PCI-ISA
1996 was quite a vintage year. My pick for best hardware is the dual Pentium Pro 440FX PCI-ISA 200MHz motherboard from Tyan. Stuffed with fast PCI cards, this board really screams! And although this motherboard is merely an incremental improvement over the 1995 Pentium offerings, it can handle any processing load Windows NT or its mainstream software offers. Finally, desktop workstation hardware has overtaken the demands of even NT.

Tyan Computer
408-956-8000
Web: http://www.tyan.com
Web: http://www.tyan.com/contact.htm (to find your local reseller)
Price: Contact your local reseller for prices

Microsoft's VB5 Control Creation Edition
Here's one product that will revolutionize ActiveX development: Microsoft's Visual Basic 5 Control Creation Edition. VB5CCE makes the design and execution of ActiveX controls available to the person on the street. If anything will kickstart the ActiveX bandwagon, VB5CCE is the product. Until now, you had to use Visual C++ (VC++) or an equivalent toolset to generate ActiveX controls. And although these tools offer the last word in power and flexibility, they're not the sort of tools that even a competent corporate IT department feels happy using. VB5CCE's wizard walks you through the creation of your OLE custom control (OCX)--and even allows for brain-dead-easy wiring of the internal methods, properties, and events of the OCX to the outside world. I gasped when, with a few mouse clicks, I created a fully functional ActiveX control that I could use in Office 97, IE 3.0, Visual Basic Application Edition (VBA), and so forth. With VB5CCE's wizard (unlike the VC++ wizard), I knew that the full power of the underlying tool was available in an easy-to-use form.

Microsoft
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/vbasic
Price: Download beta for free at Microsoft's Web site

Microsoft's Office 97
A second software pick is Office 97. Finally, Microsoft delivered on its promise to develop a cross-application macro language that makes sense. Office 97 boasts both an object model and a forms design engine, and it's smaller and faster than the previous offering. Word received the first proper rewrite in its history, lost the antiquated and hugely limiting WordBasic environment, and acquired VBA and a meaningful object model. Excel solidified its position as the pre-eminent spreadsheet tour de force with its new programmatic features. PowerPoint surprised us by gaining VBA and a full object model, too--how much more complex can a simple slide show become? Access received a few solid, under-the-hood changes. Finally, Microsoft released Outlook, a product that provides everything the appallingly misshapen Exchange Client doesn't.

Office 97 clearly leads the competition; it's a product the Office group at Redmond can take pride in. Without doubt, we can look back on 1996 as the year when software development got itself back on track, where hardware caught up with the demands of even the most serious power users, and where object technology came off the drawing board and into the real world. Yes, a vintage year indeed.

Microsoft
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web:http://www.microsoft.com/office
Price: Pricing starts at $499, Upgrade pricing starts at $209

FileNet's Ensemble
Ensemble delivers workflow management to the masses. This client/server product for use on a Windows 95 client, a Windows NT Server, and a Messaging API (MAPI)-compliant messaging architecture simplifies workflow creation, participation, and monitoring. You use a built-in process modeler to visually define the workflow, and then add details. Well-organized tab folders let you define criteria such as the workflow item to route, the routing conditions, the participants, and their response options.

Ensemble is fully integrated with Microsoft Exchange, and it stores workflow-related messages in the Exchange Inbox and launches workflow-related tasks from the Inbox. Ensemble includes a workflow integrity checker (to test whether the workflow works) and provides excellent workflow auditing and monitoring for its price. Ensemble is a great tool for building workflow front ends: For example, you can link accounting applications to workflow-driven processes such as requisitioning, travel and expense recording, time and billing, or budgeting. If developers need more sophisticated workflow options than Ensemble offers, they can add "agents" at any stage of the workflow. I predict we'll see a lot of integration action between Ensemble and accounting software in 1997.

FileNet
800-345-3638
Web: http://www.filenet.com/products/ensemble.html
Price: $995 for a 5-seat client license

America Off-Line
My other product pick is America Off-Line. At $8.95, America Off-Line is even cheaper than shareware, and it's chock-full of useful features and functions for managing your life offline. Billed as the complete Outernet starter kit, America Off-Line lives up to its promise: It's an excellent reality check for all the burned out Web-enablers coding away in corporate America.

America Off-Line has a completely intuitive user interface that any kid who knows how to read can figure out. The product is a snap to install, completely reliable, and easy to navigate. The user license is also very flexible--you can use the product anywhere you want, and you can copy all or part of the product as long as you don't claim it is your own work.

America Off-Line is no resource hog (unlike many of today's graphical applications), it requires no special training, and it's compatible with all known operating systems (although a version is not yet available for the visually impaired). I think the design of America Off-Line is the way of the future, and I'm sending a copy to all my clients to alert them to the potential of this fully integrated, highly portable application.

Author: A.J. Jacobs
Publisher: Cader Books, New York, 1996
Web: http://www.caderbooks.com
ISBN 0-836-22433-7
Price: $8.95, 128 pages

JASC's Paint Shop Pro for NT and 95
An old shareware favorite just keeps getting better. If you need to convert a file from JPG to BMP, this program is for you. Paint Shop Pro even performs batch file conversions and has paint tools. If you've tried in vain to make the Imaging program that comes with NT 4.0 do anything, contact JASC and find out what a paint program can be.

JASC
612-930-9800 or 800-622-2793
Web: http://www.jasc.com
Price: $69

Microsoft's Network Monitor Extended
Network Monitor Extended essentially turns your network into a piece of glass--and I don't mean fiber optic. You can view every frame passing by on the network to suss out security problems, troubleshoot bad connections, or just plain learn how things work. Unfortunately, you can't buy this product from Microsoft--you must buy Systems Management Server (SMS), which includes Network Monitor Extended. That situation is a mistake on Microsoft's part, but perhaps one day the company will unbundle Netmon Extended and sell it for $99.

Microsoft
206-882-8080
Web: http://www.microsoft.com
Price: $924 for a 5-client version of SMS

Gateway 2000's G6-180 Pentium Pro
Selling for under $2500, the Gateway 2000 G6-180 packs in virtually every feature you want at a bargain-basement price. The standard G6-180 package has a Pentium Pro 180MHz processor, 32MB of RAM, a 3GB hard drive, an 8X CD-ROM, and even a 17" Monitor. This machine loads Windows NT 4.0 without a hitch, and it's so fast, even installing software is fun.

Gateway 2000
800-846-4208
Web: http://www.gw2k.com
Price: $2499

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0
Microsoft IE 3.0 is a feature-rich browser that includes built-in support for just about everything you want in a browser. IE 3.0 supports both Java and ActiveX, as well as JavaScript and VB Script. For security, IE 3.0 includes Authenticode digital signatures to ensure that the applets you download are virus free. In addition, IE 3.0's accompanying Internet Mail and Internet Newsreaders are two of the easiest to use programs of their kind. Best of all, the price for all these capabilities is too good to pass up--IE 3.0 is free. Competition is a great thing.

Microsoft
206-882-8080
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ie
Price: Download for free at Microsoft's Web site

Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0
The year's best NT software, Windows NT 4.0, is smoother, faster, cleaner, industrial-strength, and (dare I say it?) better than NT 3.51. Longtime readers know I'm no Microsoft sycophant; I'm Microsoft's harshest critic when it deserves criticism. But the only people who shouldn't convert are those without solid drivers; even folks who hate the Windows 95-style interface will like NT 4.0 because they can switch off the hated UI.

But Microsoft must improve its developer relations, especially with device-driver hackers. Microsoft could have better handled the stealthy driver move to Ring 0 and sanctioned more coverage in the press. I echo others (especially the vigilant Mark Minasi) when I advise: "Don't run anything but VGA on your mission-critical servers, and test your NT 4.0 drivers extensively before putting them into active service."

Microsoft
Windows NT Server 4.0
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ntserver
Price: $809 for a 5-user version

Windows NT Workstation 4.0
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ntworkstation
Price: $319 for a 5-user version

Intergraph's TD Line
The year's hardware champ is Intergraph, with its TD line of Pentium and Pentium Pro computers. They are solidly built and designed to last. Although these machines are not yet priced for the consumer market, the company has shown real savvy by moving its astonishing prowess in computer graphics down market and giving Silicon Graphics a real run for its money on the top end.

Intergraph
800-763-0242
Web: http://www.ingr.com/ics/wkstas/td.htm
Price: Contact your local reseller for prices

Miscellaneous Hardware
A salute to the disk industry for improving hard disk drives fast enough to keep up with the newest software. Whether AT-IDE or SCSI, the price/performance and price/capacity curves on drives have been steeper than Pike's Peak, and more navigable. Ultrafast/ultrawide SCSI is this year's champion for speedy disk storage, with a special mention to the Adaptec 2940UW controllers.

Finally, thanks to the RAM makers, who took a bath on price but gave us the one thing NT appreciates most: extra RAM. The RAMBUS technology makes it possible for a few DRAM chips to be accessed through a very wide datapath.


Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0
Can't get enough of Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0! Great multitasking, great performance, great interface. I finally reformatted my laptop's hard disk and put on a single operating system that meets all my needs.

Microsoft
Windows NT Server 4.0
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ntserver
Price: $809 for a 5-user version

Windows NT Workstation 4.0
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ntworkstation
Price: $319 for a 5-user version

Microsoft's Exchange Server 4.0
Finally, a mail system that works, that I can administer remotely, and that sports great connectivity to foreign mail systems. Between the Internet Mail Connector and the X.400 connector, I have all the connectivity I need, and I can finally get rid of anything that reeks of DOS or UNIX. I can even replicate the Jokes Public Folder to my Exchange Server at home, so now I can browse the jokes offline at my leisure.

Microsoft
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/exchange
Price: $529

Microsoft's Internet Information Server 2.0
A Web site in a box! What more could a geek want? Having toiled with early releases of other third-party Windows NT-based Web servers, I dreaded looking at yet another one. When IIS 2.0 shipped and I installed it for the first time, I was amazed. It's great!

Microsoft
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com
Price: $99 for CD-ROM and documentation (download for free at http://www.microsoft.com/infoserv/iisinfo.htm)

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0
What a joy to use! No more flashing comets. Great features, great integration. (Am I a Microsoft bigot or what?)

Microsoft
206-882-8080 or 800-227-4679
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/ie
Price: Download for free at Microsoft's Web site

Intergraph's TDZ-410 with RealiZm Graphics Accelerator
My best hardware award must go to Intergraph for its TDZ-410 with the RealiZm graphics accelerator (GLZ25-GT16). It's pretty amazing. Two 200MHz Pentium Pro CPUs on a fast I/O bus with integrated ultrafast SCSI (a.k.a. SCSI-3) and fast 100Mbit Ethernet power the machine. The TDZ-410 can hold up to 512MB of RAM, with two internal drive bays, an 8X CD-ROM, and a floppy drive. The integrated OpenGL-accelerated video card with 34MB of VRAM, 16MB of texture memory, multiple buffers, and more, chews up complicated OpenGL renderings in realtime and is great at those cool 3D-VR simulators such as the Mars Rover.

When its predecessor was released just over a year ago, the TDZ 400 cost almost $40,000 with 128MB of RAM, a lesser display card, slower CD-ROM, and 10Mbit Ethernet. Now, you can get the TDZ-410 with all the fixin's (but only 64MB of RAM) for less than $15,000. If you want a complete rendering studio, you can add the StudioZ serial-digital video option for full D1 capture and playback (you'll need a fast-and-wide SCSI controller for full uncompressed video). All Intergraph TDZ and StudioZ workstations ship with RenderGL, a new rendering-routine library that extends NT's OpenGL capabilities and will turbo-boost realtime rendered previews.

Integraph
800-763-0242
Web: http://www.intergraph.com/ics
Price: Contact your local reseller for prices

Newtek's Lightwave 3D
Although Newtek's Lightwave 3D version 5.0 still hasn't adopted the Windows GUI, Lightwave 3D is one powerful--yet easy to use--3D rendering and animation package. You'll see its output on shows such as Babylon 5 and Star Trek. We use Lightwave 3D in our Lab to performance-test graphics workstations: Lightwave 3D's OpenGL capabilities make it a natural for systems with special accelerator cards, and its CPU-pounding floating point calculations for final ray-traced output can really extract some serious performance from ordinary graphics workstations.

Pentium-Pro equipped systems (without OpenGL cards) scream under Lightwave 3D, and the new 500MHz Alphas will blow your mind. If you want to open your own video studio, get Lightwave 3D and a couple of Alpha-based systems with a video-editing station. For less than $50,000 you can produce your own TV shows!

Lightwave 3D offers all the goodies you expect from high-performance animation packages--even plug-in modules are available although not on the scale of the Softimage modules that movies such as Twister or Jurrasic Park use. Lightwave 3D allows complete freedom in modeling, rendering, and animation with inverse kinematics, MetaMotion (for organic effects), film-resolution (8000*8000), and many lighting and special effects.

Newtek
913-228-8000
Web: http://www.newtek.com
Price: Intel $995, Alpha or MIPS $1995

Digital Semiconductor's 500MHz Alpha 21164 and FX!32
Best technology in 1996 is a combo: Digital's new 500MHz Alpha 21164 and FX!32. This new version of the Alpha beats the doors off of every other CPU out there for sheer number-crunching power, and FX!32 delivers cross-compatibility with full Intel Win32 code support. You can run all your old WinTel programs on your new Alpha system, and sometimes rival the performance of new Pentium Pro-based computers.

Several vendors offer 433MHz and 500MHz systems that break the $10,000 price barrier, so Alpha is poised to make big dents in Intel's market dominance. New low-cost versions of the Alpha will soon enable OEMs to build systems for less than $3000. You can get FX!32 directly from Digital for free, and it works on all versions of the Alpha CPU, as long as you run NT 4.0 Server or Workstation.

Digital Semiconductor
Alpha 21164 508-628-4760 or 800-332-2717
Web: http://www.digital.com/info/semiconductor
Price: Contact your local reseller for prices

FX!32 1.0
508-628-4760 or 800-332-2717
Web: http://www.digital.com/info/semiconductor
Price: Contact your local reseller for prices
Email: semiconductor@digital.com
Price: Download for free at http://www.service.digital.com/FX32

U.S. Robotics's Pilot
The search is over. I've finally found a product that can replace the bulky planner I've carried for years. Now I carry my contacts, calendar, to-do list, memos, and calculator in my shirt-pocket-size Pilot from U.S. Robotics.

Like any IS manager, I require a certain level of reliability with any product that handles my data. With most products, backup is an afterthought. However, because the Pilot supplements my primary computer instead of replacing it, I'm only 10 seconds from a full backup--the time it takes Pilot to perform a two-way synchronization with my laptop. If I destroy my Pilot, I can buy a new one and be back in business in less than a minute.

When I'm at my desk, I use the Pilot's 32-bit desktop software to enter information on my laptop. The Pilot sits in a cradle connected to a serial port. If I need to head to a meeting, I press one button on the Pilot, and within 10 seconds, the information in my laptop is transferred to the Pilot. I take the Pilot out of the cradle, stick it in my pocket, and I'm ready to roll.

While at a meeting, I can enter information by writing on Pilot's screen. The Pilot's handwriting recognition software, Graffiti, works well once you get the hang of it. I wouldn't want to write an article in Graffiti, but it's great for entering and managing to-do lists, phone numbers, and schedules.

Adding applications to the Pilot is easy: Simply download a file from the Web and perform a basic installation on your PC. A menu item is created to download the application into the Pilot's flash ROM. For example, you can purchase products that allow synchronization with applications such as Schedule+, Exchange, and GoldMine Contact Management. The combination of backup, recovery, size, functions, and ease-of-use make the Pilot an easy choice for my best products list.

U.S. Robotics
800-881-7256
Web: http://www.usr.com/palm
Price: $249 (Pilot 1000), $299 (Pilot 5000)

IBM's Me2Browser
Anxious for a piece of the browser action, IBM rushed its browser implementation to the market. Early testing of the product was unfavorable because the IBM product ran as a character-mode, command-line application and did not support plug-ins, ActiveX, or Java. IBM's response was, "We felt the market was confused by all the modern Web technology and needed to return to the grass roots of character-based Web browsing."


Microsoft's Anti-Netscape Navigator (MSANN) Program
Originally slated to be included in the Windows NT 4.0 distribution CD-ROM, this clever program ran whenever a new version of the IE browser was installed. MSANN deleted all occurrences of Navigator program files, replaced all Navigator plug-ins with ActiveX equivalents, and removed all Netscape links from bookmark files. Microsoft dropped this program when it discovered it didn't have ActiveX equivalents for all the plug-ins.


Netscape's MSLink Corrupter Plug-In (MCP)
Designed to be included in the version 3.0 release of Netscape Navigator, this clever little plug-in detected all links to Microsoft Web pages and inserted 60-second delays when a link was requested. After the first 30 seconds a message saying, "Wouldn't you rather go to the Netscape home page?" appeared on the screen. Netscape dropped this plug-in when it discovered that many of its home page links took more than 60 seconds to load.

Corrections to this Article:
  • In "NT Stuff We Like," we incorrectly identified Whitetree and therefore gave incorrect Web and email addresses. The correct contact information is Whitetree, 415-855-0855; on the Web, http://www.whitetree.com. John Enck incorrectly mentioned that the NetWare File and Print interoperability services are bundled with Windows NT 4.0. Although the NetWare Gateway services comes with NT Server, the file-and-print services are a separate licensed product. Also, Jonathan Chau's review of the Iomega Jaz Drive incorrectly mentioned the inclusion of a SCSI-to-Parallel adapter. The adapter is available from Iomega at an additional cost.