Microsoft has apparently softened its position on providing technical support for its Windows NT customers who choose to run Novell's NDS for NT.
In light of a story reported by Computerworld this week, Microsoft has posted a new statement on its Web site saying, "any customer that uses NDS for NT can expect full support for Windows NT Server code from Microsoft."
According to Mike Nash, director of NT server marketing at Microsoft, the document issued last week by Microsoft stating that the company would refuse support to customers deploying the Novell Directory Services (NDS) solution "was wrong."
Nash said that, "Microsoft's position has remained the same, it is just that last week's message was miscommunicated and wrong."
The statement posted last week on Microsoft's Web site said that NDS for NT "replaces two key system DLLs on Windows NT Server. ... [which are] integral to the Windows NT Server 4.0 security sub-system." This claim was confirmed at the time by the NT Server product manager, Bob Kelly.
Nash, however, conceded that both Kelly and the formal statement were wrong, and that NDS for NT in fact only replaces one system DLL.
"Everyone at Microsoft, including executives and technical service personnel, was consistently wrong because they were all reading from the same songbook," Nash said.
When asked how a factually incorrect statement could make it to Microsoft's Web site, Nash said, "it is a long, disastrous story how that document got up on the Web."
Novell's director of product marketing, Michael Simpson, said that even Microsoft's second statement is still inaccurate.
"Microsoft still claims that NDS for NT renders the NT Server non-C2 certified [for security]; when in fact, it never was C2-certified," Simpson said.
Simpson, who said "you can bet the Department of Justice is paying very close attention to this," also said that NDS for NT "does not affect client-to-server security one iota [as Microsoft claims]. It does impact server-to-server authentication, but it renders the NT server more secure."
The bottom line for Simpson was that "NDS for NT is a no-risk proposition for customers. Now that Microsoft is recanting, customers should feel comfortable deploying the product," he said.
At least one analyst agreed with Simpson that "Microsoft tried and failed to pull a scare tactic. They were yet again acting anti-competitive."
Neil MacDonald, an analyst at the Gartner Group, added that "issuing such a harshly worded statement was the wrong thing to do if Microsoft's top executives are trying to establish a kinder reputation -- that's why they yanked it after hearing the backlash."
MacDonald said that he is no longer concerned about support issues for his clients running NDS for NT, because "Microsoft is now offering support to NT customers with NT-specific problems and Novell was always offering support for NDS for NT."
Like Simpson though, MacDonald also said that even the second statement issued by Microsoft contains some inaccuracies.
"Several of their statements are misleading," MacDonald said. "First, there is no evidence that NDS for NT makes NT less secure as Microsoft claims; and secondly, NDS for NT is absolutely an interoperability solution [contrary to Microsoft's claim]."
Competitive (or anti-competitive) issues aside, users deciding whether to purchase Novell's NDS for NT as a solution for managing heterogeneous NetWare and NT environments are pleased to know that they will apparently not have to sacrifice NT technical support.
Brian Jaffe, director of network and client services at Bantam Doubleday Dell, in New York, was contacted personally by a Microsoft service technician following Jaffe's statement in this week's issue of InfoWorld.
"I'm absolutely glad to hear that Microsoft will offer support to NT users with NDS for NT," Jaffe said. "I only wish they wouldn't cloud the issue by bogging down a statement about technical service with a debate over which approach to directories is better. They are two separate issues."