Windows NT 5.0 is starting to make Windows 95 look like a Spring chicken, with its constant delays and threats of feature reduction. This week, sources close to Microsoft revealed that NT 5.0 is likely to be delayed yet again, with a 1998 release date looking ever more unlikely. The problem stems from Microsoft promising to add just too many features to the new OS and it's having problems getting them to work together. The biggest culprits are Active Directory (the "killer feature" of NT 5.0) and IntelliMirror. Since Active Directory is so integral to the NT 5.0 upgrade, it is unlikely that Microsoft will kill that feature. IntelliMirror, however, is looking more and more likely as a candidate for a future NT 5.0 "point" release (such as NT 5.1 or similar). Meanwhile, the release of Windows 98, until recently a poor stepchild to NT 5.0, is moving ahead full steam, and Microsoft has suddenly decided to put a lot of marketing muscle behind the one OS they will ship this year.

"Windows NT 5.0 has slipped to \[April-June\] 1999," said a confidential source close to PC Week. "As a result of the NT 5.0 slippage, Microsoft will make a stronger push of Windows 98 into the commercial environment."

The release of Windows NT 5.0 has three possibilities: release it soon (that is, before the end of 1998), release it when all of the promised functionality is completed (probably in 1999 at this rate), or offer it somewhere in between these times by reducing the feature-set. By offering a reduced feature-set version of NT 5.0 within 6-8 months, Microsoft can guarantee a stable, solid platform without alienating customers. Again, the focus comes back to the Active Directory and IntelliMirror features.

"Making \[Active Directory\] work is not terribly hard, but having all the infrastructure around the Active Directory--having it be scalable over machines that are different in power by factors of thousands, having it be scalable across companies that are very different in the number of objects they are trying to manage in the Active Directory by a factor of 10--these are tremendous design goals," said Ed Muth, an NT group product manager at Microsoft.

Officials at Microsoft concede that IntelliMirror is not nearly as far along as Active Directory, though they promise that the Beta 2 release of NT 5.0 (recently delayed until mid-1998) will include a working version of it. Originally, IntelliMirror support was scheduled for Windows 98 as well, but those plans were dropped.

"IntelliMirror's feature set is not defined, \[nor is\] the way we will implement it to the user," said Shannon Perdue, an NT workstation product manager at Microsoft.

Expect a decision on NT 5.0 soon. Microsoft is coming under pressure from corporations waiting to upgrade that are uneasy about moving to Windows 98. And for many sites, upgrading to NT 4.0, with its limited driver availability, just isn't an option. IntelliMirror just isn't the driving force behind the reason people will upgrade to NT 5.0, so we're expecting that to be the feature that gets dropped so Microsoft can make a late 1998 ship date