Just when you thought you had time to figure out Windows NT 4.0, here comes version 5.0. Last November, Microsoft unveiled an enormous amount of new technology that will eventually take form as Windows NT 5.0 and BackOffice. Much of this technology will affect your enterprise's infrastructure and the way you interact with NT. Right now, I'll give you some highlights of what to expect from 5.0, and you can look for in-depth coverage in the February issue of Windows NT Magazine.

Microsoft wants us to build corporate solutions on what it's calling its Active Platform, which consists of the Active Desktop (the Internet Explorer--IE--4.0 Web browser, which will be built into NT Workstation), the Active Server, and ActiveX. The Active Server consists of Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0, Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM), Microsoft Transaction Server, and Falcon (message queuing-based middleware). On top of these services rest the other BackOffice components: SQL Server, Exchange Server, SNA Server, Conference Server, Personalization Server, Information Retrieval (indexing), Content Replication, Merchant Server, and Proxy Server.

IIS, formerly a BackOffice option, is now mandatory for building an NT Server environment. Its role is to serve Active Server Pages (dynamic HTML and ActiveX pages) that other services will use. One important service that uses Active Server Pages is the new Microsoft Management Console (MMC), which lets you manage all aspects of an NT network from one user interface. And MMC manages not just Microsoft products. Third-party vendors will be able to write ActiveX modules to let their products snap into the MMC framework. Because MMC supports Active Server Pages, Administrators will be able to manage their systems remotely through a Web browser.

So what's in NT 5.0? For starters, plug-and-play, power management, full DirectX support, Windows 95-to-NT migration, built-in IE 4.0 for Workstation, and the latest Internet technologies. Add the new Active Directory, Zero Administration Initiative, hierarchical storage management (HSM, from Wang), volume management (from Veritas Software), a dynamic Domain Name System--DNS (say goodbye to Windows Internet Name Service--WINS), and more. On page 39, Mark Minasi gives an overview of NT 5 technologies.

You can also bid farewell to DOS-based scripts. NT 5.0 supports language-independent Active Scripting. This engine will let you use Visual Basic, Java, and other languages to automate procedures. The idea is that all administrative features will be extensible via Active Script. Finally, a real batch language.

I can hear it now. Some of you are saying, "I haven't even implemented NT 4.0 yet. How many nights and weekends do I have to spend keeping my systems up-to-date?" Microsoft's plan to help you upgrade is Wolfpack, NT's new clustering solution, which is due by June 1997. By putting two or more servers into a cluster, you can manually fail over one server to another server that will pick up the workload. Then you can upgrade and test the first server. When you're comfortable with the change, you can bring the server back online and have the users and processes automatically move back. Meanwhile, users are up and running the very application you're updating.

When will NT 5.0 come out? According to Lou Perazzoli at Microsoft, "Late." However, you can expect to see many of these technologies available on the Web before the final release of NT 5.0. We are testing parts of NT 5.0 in the Windows NT Magazine Lab and will let you know when we think the new functions are ready for a production environment.

Warning: All the new features will run on only NT Server 4.0, so if you're still on NT 3.51, you'll have to watch from the sidelines. Still, running a business on NT 5.0 (or any other) beta software is a waste of time. In fact, staying on NT Server 3.51 is a very safe, conservative strategy until you decide to go to 4.0 or wait for 5.0.

What do you do with all the new 5.0 stuff? First, if you haven't implemented an intranet infrastructure in your corporation, do so now. Most systems management tools from Microsoft or third parties will come with Web connectivity of some kind. Second, assume that your next corporate development platform will be based on intranet technology. Finding a development platform that doesn't support the Internet/intranet is nearly impossible.

As we explore this and other NT-related technology, we'll continue to provide the information you need to help you get the job done today. And we'll keep you informed about how to prepare for the future.