NT Hotter than Predicted

Yes, I was wrong. Last month, I predicted that the recent London Windows NT show would be a valuable thermometer for testing the temperature of the NT water out there, and that the show might not be the success we had hoped for. On the first count, I was quite right. On the second, I was very wrong indeed.

The place was packed. The walkways were filled with people overspilling from stand after stand. And crowds were packed around the inevitably large Microsoft stand to preview Office 97 and large amounts of BackOffice technology.

The Windows NT Magazine stand was heaving with people, too. A large pile of magazines was at the front as free giveaways, and I watched the pile shrink in size as I looked at it. I'm told that the quantity given away ran to nearly five thousand in the first day, which is quite some achievement.

Without doubt, two types of people were there. The first group consisted of those who knew NT, were professional NT users, and who were looking for the latest hot technologies and new products. The other, clearly definable group consisted of those who didn't know NT at all and who were spurred on by the industry rumbling about NT4. Both groups should have been satisfied with what they saw.

Of course, I enjoyed seeing new products and major technologies from the US companies such as Oracle, Digital Equipment, and Microsoft. Oracle had a stand full of Web-based systems, which shows just how quickly the company is adopting HTML and Web browsers as a means of disseminating information to the desktop without requiring complex proprietary browsers or front-end applications. And I was most impressed by Oracle's early work on using Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) to build surface graphs of large complex data sets: Being able to fly around a surface of data is going to bring richer data-viewing paradigms straight onto the desktop.

Digital was in full flight, showing NT's clustering facilities. Two servers were hosting a shared database array that SQL Server was accessing. When the demonstration shut down the primary server, the secondary one took over the array and continued with the processing after a delay of 30 seconds or so.

Microsoft was showing Office 97, which (considering the instability of the betas at the time) was quite a brave feat. Indeed, one MS UK product manager told me that the then-current build of PowerPoint was feature complete and debugged, except it couldn't save files. He assured me that Microsoft would attend to this minor oversight before the shrinkwrap machine was started.

I was glad to see a significant presence by European software vendors. They were not competing in the Office or SQL Server marketplace, but have definitely been doing interesting work in the utilities arena.

The issue of NT network security is becoming more and more of an issue to users. The huge mess that is NT's security and permissions interface is enough to frighten off even the most experienced users. So some developers have realised that trying to set up and maintain all the security parameters on an NT network can be very difficult.

A number of companies were showing products aimed at helping to sort out this mess. BrainTree Technology of Manchester, UK, have a product called NT Auditor. It lets you audit disks, files, groups, logon failures, passwords, policy, printers, registry, shares, servers, services, and users. It also links to the company's Auditor Plus package for integration to the OpenVMS platform. Contact Tom Humphrey, sales manager, 44 1 61 945-1511, tom@btree.demon.co.uk.

March Systems of Berkshire, UK, has a product called Security Manager, which the company is currently porting over from UNIX platforms. At the moment, the NT-side interrogation software is running, but it still requires a UNIX-based management console. Naturally, this situation will change in the next few months with the release of the NT-hosted management console. Like the BrainTree product, this product looks like it will do full auditing of your system security and will integrate into the company's UNIX products. Contact Ross Wakelin, 44 1 18 930-4224, r.wakelin@march.co.uk.

Neither product is in the bargain-basement league when it comes to pricing, and you'll need a small, four-figure sum to implement these products across a number of servers. However, if these products can deliver accurate and meaningful security reporting, their target market will consider the cost small. These products are not a replacement for a clear understanding of security but should help users avoid stupid errors and security holes.

Despite various vague promises from Microsoft, faxing is still something Exchange Server and NT 4.0 seem incapable of doing out of the box, even in a crude fashion. However, fax products for Exchange Server are finally appearing. Faxination from the Dutch company Fenestrae definitely looks interesting, because it is fully integrated into the Exchange Server environment. The two versions of the product are the Standard Edition, which supports 2 lines, and the Corporate Edition, which supports 16 lines. Both versions offer a wide range of functionality, but the Corporate Edition adds support for document conversion at the gateway, support for direct inward dialing to virtual fax numbers, ISDN routing, cost management, and support for directory extensions. Contact the company at Icon in London, 44 1 81 960-6662, ICON@icon-plc.co.uk.

Serverware showed a range of useful utilities from around the world. Of special Euro interest is SeNTry ELM which lets you collect the flood of information you can get from the Event Logs in Windows NT and make structured sense of it. The product also lets you set up basic alerts on specific event types, which will be useful to anyone working in a complex multiserver environment.

So overall, a good success. NT is definitely taking off, and there is a lot of interest. And more products are coming around the corner too.

NT4 Versions?
If you install NT 4.0, you will see that the version is "1381". Some machines are reporting themselves to be "1381.", with a full stop after the number.

Word has it that Microsoft made some bug fixes between the original US release and the product release in Europe, and the mysterious dot marks this difference between the US and Europe releases. I suggest that this difference really doesn't matter, especially since Microsoft has released the first Service Pack for NT 4.0, which (true to form) is missing several key items that Microsoft promised for it. Where is the Direct3D support, for example? Ordinarily, the "install to latest SP version" rule-of-thumb would apply, except that many of us are experiencing problems with SP1 that weren't in the original dotted release. Problems include resource leakages (Internet Explorer 3.01 consumed 190MB of RAM on this machine last night!) and randomly flickery desktop repainting. More news on these problems as it occurs.

NT Auditor
BrainTree Technology * 617-982-0200
Web: www.bti.com
Security Manager
March Systems * 44 1 18 930-4224
Web: www.march.co.uk
Faxination
Fenestrae * 770-446-2280
Web: www.fenestrae.com
Email: info@fenestrae.com
SeNTry ELM
Serverware * 44 1 71 419-2020
Web: www.serverware.com
Email: sales@serverware.com