NT 5.0 may be a bridge too far for 16-bit Windows users

As Microsoft urges users to gaze over the horizon and await the dawning of Windows NT 5.0, its setup teams are making sure that the transition from Windows 95 or 98 to NT 5.0, some time in 1999, is smooth and seamless. But a senior Microsoft official admits virtually nothing has been done to facilitate upgrades from 16-bit versions of Windows to NT 5.0.

Microsoft insists that the newly christened Windows 98 operating system will find its home in the enterprise, but the company is also promising tools that will ease migration from Windows 95 and 98 to its favorite operating system, Windows NT 5.0.

To help users along the road to NT 5.0, which is planned for beta release at a developer's conference in San Diego in mid-September, Microsoft will offer migration tools to check applications and determine if they will work with NT. Among them are migration DLLs that Microsoft is developing with application vendors, says Jim Allchin, senior vice president of Microsoft's personal business and systems group.

However, those looking to jump from 16-bit Windows to NT 5.0 will be left out.

Although Allchin says that "we've doubled or tripled the team doing setup, and they've been cranking away so that migration from Windows 95 and Windows 98 to NT 5.0 on the desktop will be very, very seamless," he also admitted that "we have done nothing to improve the Windows 3.1-to-NT transition."

Microsoft is recommending Windows 98 for corporations running Windows 3.1 applications that do not perform well on NT, says Paul Maritz, group vice president of platforms and applications. These include programs that require real-mode device drivers, which do not function on NT. Windows 98 is now in beta testing and is expected to ship early in 1998.

Microsoft expects companies buying new hardware to pick NT 4.0 in anticipation of NT 5.0. However, one analyst said he believes Windows 98 will provide a smoother upgrade path.

"Deploying Windows 98 makes sense because it's a better migration path than NT 4.0, and 5.0 is so far out on the horizon," says Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at the GartnerGroup, in Stamford, Connecticut.

Gartenberg predicts that Microsoft will be lucky to ship NT 5.0, widely expected about one year from now, by the end of 1998.

Some users are convinced that NT 5.0 will be worth the wait.

"We're migrating our desktop users to NT 4.0," says Jim Burks, an engineering manager at Harrah's Entertainment, in Memphis, Tennessee, which runs a mix of NT 4.0 and Windows 3.11. "We are tracking the feature list, and we're budgeting for [NT 5.0]."

Microsoft hopes to find success in the small-business arena. To that end, the company by September will release a small-business version of its BackOffice server-application suite with an integrated version of NT Server, Allchin says.

Code-named Sam, this package is designed to be a turnkey solution for small shops, offering slimmed-down versions of BackOffice servers such as SQL, Exchange, and Proxy, as well as fax and modem-pooling functions.

Microsoft will put a licensing and technological cap of 25 users on the small-business BackOffice server, says Steve Ballmer, Microsoft executive vice president. The company caused an uproar by emphasising that its software licensing policy prevents Windows NT Workstation from being used as a server OS (rather than the higher-priced NT Server).

Microsoft's Future Offerings

Product Beta testing Ship date

BackOfficeServer

small-business version Now Later this quarter

withintegrated Windows NT

Windows 98 Now Early 1998

Windows NT 5.0 Mid-September No ship date yet

Office 97 Now No ship date yet

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