Windows NT 4 a tale of two prices

Analysis of Microsoft's Windows NT 4 Workstation and Server versions shows the two hardly differ--except in price.

Microsoft is defending its pricing structure for version 4.0 of Windows NT Server and Workstation--ignoring recent press reports stating the two products are effectively the same and therefore should be priced similarly.

An article published on O'Reilly's Software On-line Web page outlines tests carried out by NT experts who report the differences between the NT Server ($2009 excluding GST) and NT Workstation ($569 excluding GST) kernels are minimal. The Workstation version can be transformed into the Server by carrying out several simple changes to the Workstation registry.

O'Reilly's points out the article has been published not to encourage users to tamper with the software, but instead to point out the minimal differences between the two products in an effort to get Microsoft to change its licensing and /or marketing of Windows NT.

While the authors of the article have written an application, NTTune, to carry out the registry changes, it is not being distributed and was only written to verify the changes could be made.

Other findings revealed show Microsoft BackOffice, which will only run on NT Server, can be installed on Workstation after the registry changes have been made. Once BackOffice has been installed, the bogus "Server" can then be changed back to Workstation, without affecting the performance of BackOffice. This indicates that only the setup/install program included in BackOffice detects which operating system is running.

Microsoft New Zealand admits that to a certain point the two products are effectively the same, but points out that hundreds of different configuration changes are carried out whenever either of the operating systems is booted.

"The plan for Microsoft is to build operating systems which meet the needs of the customer and to do it in the most cost-effective manner possible," says Guy Haycock, NT product manager for Microsoft New Zealand. "If that means that we can build two versions of a product which if you look at the files are identical, but when booted present a different picture, then that is great for our clients because it means lower costs. It is also better for our clients in terms of customer support.

"Microsoft has an ambitious engineering goal to produce NT binary which makes configuration changes as it boots. This binary will include NT Workstation, NT Server, different processor types, different domain configurations and localisation. However, this doesn't mean that the products are identical when they run. The fact is that NT makes over 750 configuration changes when it boots, depending on whether its NT Workstation or NT Server," says Haycock.

"Microsoft doesn't recommend that users make random hacks to the registry--it's crazy. The fact that we combine the development of two products within one team ultimately means the product will be cheaper. We could have an NT Server and a completely different NT Workstation team, but in the end, the customer would pay for that. There is a value-based equation here--NT Server offers significant additional value, hence the additional price over NT Workstation," says Haycock.

The article in question--"Differences between NT Server and Workstation are Minimal"--can be found at http://software.ora.com.

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