Kearn's column: Microsoft's bad year

The year 1998 is fast closing (and the year 2000 is fast approaching). This year is one Microsoft probably wants to forget. No one was a bigger loser in '98 than Microsoft. The only close competitor was America Online, with its $US4.2 billion offer to essentially buy Netscape Communications' portal site. (Hey, Steve Case! I can sell you a whole bridge for a lot less.)Last month, Windows NT took a beating both as an application platform and a network server in analyses released by DH Brown Associates and the Giga Information Group.

DH Brown, in its annual review of application server platforms, ranked NT behind IBM's AIX (which came in first), Compaq Computer's Digital Unix, Sun Microsystems's Solaris, Silicon Graphics's Irix and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX. NT finished last in each category of the study except support for PC clients (where it was second to Digital Unix). Categories included scalability, reliability, availability, serviceability and system management.

On the network server front, Giga Information Systems found that upgrading from NetWare 4 to NT 4 would cost 2 to 3 times as much as upgrading to NetWare 5.

Among the issues raised were performance, reliability and administrative cost. Field interviews showed that in a large enterprise, an all-NT network would need up to twice as many servers as NetWare. And NT's inability to make full use of high-speed bandwidth would mean increasing the number of subnets and backbones throughout the network.

Giga also found you'll need more administrators, pay higher salaries (because of the lower number of Microsoft Certified Software Engineers available) and spend more for training with NT than with NetWare.

Bill Gates and Microsoft have never had a year like 1998.

Setbacks in court in Sun's Java lawsuit coupled with the ridicule Gates has drawn for his taped testimony in the antitrust case battered Microsoft on the legal front. Directory partner Cisco Systems's endorsement (if a tepid one) of Novell's Novell Directory Services (NDS) coupled with the ringing endorsement of NDS by Lucent Technologies Inc. and Nortel Networks hit the Redmondites on another front. Then two different analyst groups turned thumbs down on Windows NT Server.

First their enemies beat them. Then their friends turned on them. Finally, the neutral observers dissed them. Don't you feel sorry for Bill?

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

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