NT 5.0 will mean notebook headaches

IT departments managing Windows NT 4.0-based notebooks that want to move to 5.0 are in for a rude awakening as the news from Redmond spreads that the upgrade will disable power management, socket services, and plug-and-play features in today's NT 4.0 notebook systems. Because system vendors have developed their own power-management solutions to meet customer demand for NT 4.0 -- which does not implement these features on notebooks -- Microsoft does not support those homegrown solutions.

IT departments managing Windows NT 4.0-based notebooks that want to move to 5.0 are in for a rude awakening as the news from Redmond spreads that the upgrade will disable power management, socket services, and plug-and-play features in today's NT 4.0 notebook systems.

Because system vendors have developed their own power-management solutions to meet customer demand for NT 4.0 -- which does not implement these features on notebooks -- Microsoft does not support those homegrown solutions.

However, Microsoft has been working quietly with all major notebook vendors to help them develop a solution that will sit atop NT 5.0 and allow users to keep such capabilities as hot-swappable option bays and intelligent power management of PC Cards, hard disks, and screens.

The issue, as described by Carl Stork, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Platform group, is that NT 5.0's support of power management and hot-plug docking for PC Card and CardBus are built around Advanced Configuration Power Interface (ACPI) and is hardware-based.

"Early ACPI adopters have a big plus," Stork said.

Some analysts say IT managers should have seen this problem coming.

"I think customers were aware that the two versions would not be compatible, unless they were asleep at the wheel," says Mike McGuire, a senior analyst at Dataquest.

However, for those who have NT 4.0 deployed on notebooks, the delay of NT 5.0 exacerbates the problem.

"We have about 150 notebooks running NT 4.0 now," an IT manager at a Fortune 1000 company says. "We want to get it down to supporting one OS. Because of the NT 5.0 delay, we were looking at putting NT 4.0 on notebooks whereas we might have waited. Now everything is up in the air."

Although officials at a handful of notebook vendors say they are working closely with Microsoft and will offer upgrade kits that might incorporate "flashing the BIOS" when necessary, there appears to be great concern about the upgrade process.

"It's going to be like playing Russian roulette if you decide to go from NT 4.0 to NT 5.0 on earlier notebooks," says Rob Enderle, senior analyst at the Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, Calif.

"IT managers do prefer to have power management and plug and play native," said Lewis Schrock, director of portable product marketing at Compaq, in Houston.

* Notebooks built prior to ACPI cannot run native Windows NT 5.0 power management.

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