FRAMINGHAM (04/19/2000) - Just as quietly as Microsoft Corp. eliminated network features from its forthcoming Windows ME, it has now returned some of those features to the operating system.
Last month, Microsoft confirmed it had stripped from Windows Millennium Edition (ME) the software needed to connect the operating system to NetWare or Banyan (now called ePresence) file servers. Microsoft also said that ME would not have a client for Active Directory.
Yesterday, Microsoft partially relented, returning the NetWare client to the feature list of ME, but leaving the ePresence software out because of little or no customer demand. The company also reiterated that ME is a consumer-oriented operating system.
But Microsoft did not address whether an Active Directory client will be supplied with the software. Without that client, users will not be able to connect to the directory in Windows 2000.
"Microsoft is still vague on [Active Directory support]," says Neil MacDonald, an analyst with the Gartner Group, which first brought the ME issue to light and yesterday reported that Microsoft had made changes to ME. "There will be an Active Directory client for 9.x and indeed it may run on ME, however, what we are looking for from Microsoft is explicit commitment that they will support this configuration. Customers should continue to pressure Microsoft for this final confirmation."
Microsoft has already announced an Active Directory client for Windows 95 and 98.
Critics originally called the removal of the LAN software shortsighted because ME still provided Microsoft the potential to generate revenue from corporate customers. Critics also said the moves were forcing users to a more expensive upgrade with Win 2000.
Enterprise users who were committed to the Windows 95/98 upgrade path were shocked to find out that they would lose the ability to integrate the new operating system with their heterogeneous networks. They were also upset that some telecommuters and mobile workers would not be able to access corporate networks and felt the ME network omissions were merely a forced march to Win 2000.
For enterprise customers, the elimination of the LAN clients from ME essentially recreated issues they've faced when contemplating a move from Windows 9.x to NT Workstation, most notably higher cost for migration and licensing, as well as application and hardware compatibility.
"A final factor was that some network connected games use IPX for connecting multiple players together and removing IPX support would 'break' these games," MacDonald says. But MacDonald believes that bad press and customer complaints forced Microsoft to reconsider.
Microsoft officials claim they heard the complaints loud and clear from users and when ME ships in June it will have the network software. The software was added to the third beta that shipped last week, according to company officials.
In addition, Novell says it is working on a client for Windows ME that also will let users connect to NetWare servers.
Gartner says that with a networking and Active Directory client there is no technical reason why ME can't be used on corporate networks. But the analyst firm also warned enterprise users that ME only delays by a couple of years the inevitable move to upgrade applications and hardware to support Win 2000.