Kearns' column: Lan Manager reincarnated

"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." - George Bernard Shaw.

Microsoft and Intel recently jointly announced the next "big thing" for small business networking -- the Windows NT Server Appliance.

This follows on the heels of Novell's announcement of an Internet caching appliance.

These new offerings seem to presage a new era for networking, perhaps to be dubbed the "Frigidairisation" of networking. (Aside: Fridgidaire was the first big name in automatic refrigerators. Automatic because, instead of putting the ice in yourself, a sealed refrigerant kept the box cold.)The Windows NT Server Appliance -- Intel-based, of course -- will run the new embedded version of Windows NT 4, which is just now entering beta tests. The operating system will be made available to hardware makers under OEM arrangements. These hardware companies can customise various services and drivers or add new ones written by themselves or third parties.

If you've been in the industry for more than a few years, you'll remember that this is exactly the scheme under which the LAN Manager network operating system was sold and marketed. You didn't buy LANMan from Microsoft. Rather, you bought it from an OEM company that took the Microsoft operating system kernel and services, added and subtracted drivers, utilities and applications, and then sold the package under the LAN Manager name, or under the OEM company's own brand.

If you remember that much, you should also remember that this scheme was not very successful, costing OEMs many, many dollars for marketing, service and support while bringing remarkably incompatible products to your network. The experience was so bad that most of the LANMan OEM companies ended up bailing out of the network operating system business.

Showing a decided ability to shoot themselves in both feet simultaneously, Intel and Microsoft will release the Windows NT 4-based appliance at about the same time that Windows 2000 makes its debut.

Confused? You ain't seen nothing yet.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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