Petreley's column: The speed of 64-bit Windows

I have a few issues to cover this week. First let's talk about Microsoft purchasing the San Francisco Unix developer, Softway Systems. Softway makes a Unix compatibility box for Windows NT called Interix.

Several months ago, Softway announced its intention to bring Linux compatibility to Windows NT. This led some to speculate that Microsoft bought Softway in order to deliver Linux for Windows, as a way to derail the increasing popularity of Linux.

I can't adequately describe my first reaction to this notion. I simply don't know how to represent uncontrollable laughter in text. The idea of Linux for Windows sounded too much like the last resort of a company that can't find any other way to get Linux applications to crash.

Seriously, though, I would love to see Windows NT run Linux binaries. Such a feature could prove very useful in certain situations. But it would be a strategic blunder of epic proportions for Microsoft to promote Windows NT as a Linux-compatible alternative to Linux.

Even IBM eventually admitted that it hurt OS/2 by promoting the operating system as a better way to run Windows applications than Windows. Microsoft led IBM into that marketing disaster by the nose. I doubt if Microsoft will fall for its own trick.

It is much more likely that Microsoft is interested in putting the people from Softway Systems to work on 64-bit Windows NT. Rumour has it that Softway has been lending a hand in this project for quite a while. The story is that Microsoft was making such poor progress with 64-bit NT that it turned to experts with experience on 64-bit Unix systems to sort out Microsoft's problems with moving the NT kernel to a 64-bit model.

That makes the Softway acquisition good news for Windows NT/2000 fans. With Softway working on the project, we might actually see 64-bit Windows in our lifetime.

But if the installation process for Windows 2000 Beta 2 is any indication, we won't. Which brings me to my next topic. Microsoft has gotten far too spoiled in the fact that most people purchase computers with Windows pre-installed. As a result, the Redmond, Washington-based software giant seems to have forgotten that some of us have to install it manually.

This week I installed Windows 2000, Windows 98, Caldera OpenLinux 2.3, and Mandrake Linux 6.1 on the same computer. Caldera OpenLinux installed flawlessly in about 15 minutes. Mandrake Linux 6.1 also had no problems, but took just a bit longer.

By contrast, Windows 98 took almost 40 minutes to install, and it could not recognise either of the two plug-and-play network cards in the machine (a Linksys LNE100TX and 3Com 3C905B). This is remarkable, since Windows 98 supports both cards out of the box, and recognised them separately.

Worst of all, when I tried to install the drivers manually, Windows refused to cooperate. It told me to let Windows detect the cards automatically. Naturally, it didn't detect the cards even after a power-down, so I was back to square one.

Windows 2000 installed without a hitch, but the process takes so long that colleague Maggie Biggs and I are debating over the best 10 things you can do while you wait. One of her thoughts is to run a marathon. And not finish first.

I'll have to fall back on one of my favourites: spit shining the Empire State Building.

What surprised me most was what happened when I tried to upgrade my installation of Windows 2000 Professional to Windows 2000 Advanced Server. The installation program told me I couldn't do it. I had to wipe the disk and start from scratch.

I can understand Microsoft's motivation here. The company doesn't want people to buy its workstation product, use it as a small-scale server, and then upgrade later. They want you to buy big now.

But is this wise from a marketing point of view? Microsoft is essentially going out of its way to protect itself at the expense of consumer flexibility.

And it has every right to do so. But in the face of the rising popularity of many flexible and less expensive Unix alternatives ranging from FreeBSD to Solaris, Microsoft is clearly behaving like a company that believes it is immune to competition.

Well, maybe it is. Time will tell.

Nicholas Petreley is editorial director of LinuxWorld (www.linuxworld.com). Reach him at nicholas_petreley@infoworld.com, and visit his forum at www.infoworld.com/.

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