Chicago toddles into town; Microsoft readies new Windows and Windows NT versions – Microsoft’s Chicago operating system – Field Report
Elizabeth U. Harding
Long a powerful industry influence, Microsoft Corp. will gain renewed attention as its future operating systems come into view. The Redmond, Wash., giant’s fortunes will likely rise or fall based on the reception of its next Windows systems — widely known by its code name, Chicago — as well as Daytona and Cairo, the next versions of Windows NT. Reports indicate that the formal introduction of Daytona is imminent, that Chicago should emerge at the beginning of 1995, and that a full-fledged Cairo is more likely to appear in 1996.
Clearly, Microsoft’s phenomenal success with Windows 3.1–the installed base has grown to 60 million — has made Windows a de facto desktop standard, thereby positioning Microsoft to set the tone for the future. Still, Chicago — called “Windows 4.0” by some — will have to prove itself in the marketplace. As always, the front-runner has plenty of critics.
“Windows became successful because Windows proved to be a decent DOS shell multitasking memory manager,” said Will Zachmann, president, Canopus Research, Duxbury, Mass. “It isn’t bad for running individual productivity applications, but [it] is not an adequate platform for running industrial strength systems.”
There are users who agree. Said Mark Stevens, contract programmer, Bentley Software, Newport Beach, Calif., “If you’re doing basic things, Windows is okay. But if you’re pushing it, and do what you theoretically should be able to do, Windows crashes. And it’s hard to know if it’s Windows or the application that crashes.”
Instability is one of the problems that Microsoft will address with Chicago, which will provide better protection against programs colliding into each other. “Chicago is the ultimate client operating system,” said Richard Freedman, Microsoft’s product manager, Chicago Group. “It connects very well in heterogeneous environments and different networks, and has very good support for being managed.” Most importantly, with Chicago, there is no DOS hiding under Windows.
“DOS is now rapidly receding to being a bench product,” noted Curt Monash, of Monash Information Services, New York City. “But there are a tremendous number of DOS machines out there. It’ll be a long time before the last one will be replaced.”
According to early testers, Chicago has a radically different look and feel than Windows 3.1. Microsoft got rid of clumsy DOS and Windows elements, introducing a new, improved Windows interface that resembles Apple’s Macintosh machines in simplicity and ease of use.
“In terms of benefits offered, Chicago doesn’t buy you a whole lot,” commented Michael Goulde, senior analyst, Patricia Seybold Group, Boston. “Windows 4.0 will run pretty much the way Windows runs today. It gives you a new interface which people will have to learn.”
According to Goulde, IS organizations will have to filter through marketing hype and understand the prerequisites for getting Windows 4.0 benefits. Windows 4.0 has a mixture of 16- and 32-bit code, he contends, as well as mixed support for 16- and 32-bit applications.
Indications are that, because old 16-bit Windows applications are not multithreaded, they cannot be preemptively multitasked. Developers face the challenge of deciding when to support the new 32-bit system, with its full multitasking, multithreading, flat memory model and larger address space. If a developer writes to the Windows 4.0 subset of the Win32 API (application programming interface), the application will not run on Windows 3.1, said Goulde.
“It is possible to run a 32-bit application on 3.1 but you’ll be sacrificing important functionality,” responded Microsoft’s Freedman. “You can’t use threads for instance. For some applications it’s appropriate; for others, it’s not. Some APIs are specific to NT, like the security API, but most applications will run on both Chicago and NT.”
Chicago is currently being beta tested by some 20,000 people. It will ship early next year according to most analysts.
How does Microsoft distinguish the Chicago and Windows NT markets? “Chicago is a high-volume desktop operating system,” explained Freedman. “The Windows NT desktop operating system is for your most demanding applications.”
Where Users Stand
If Chicago is delayed, IBM may be able to push its rival operating system OS/2, which, some estimate, has sold about five million copies.
“I think Microsoft has a more formidable competitor in OS/2 than is generally recognized,” said Canopus’ Zachmann, a noted OS/2 proponent.
Added Zachmann, “I don’t think Microsoft is the assured winner they want everybody to believe they are.”
Frank Petersmark, technical services manager, Amerisure Companies, Detroit, said his company has standardized on OS/2. “We wanted multitasking capabilities and couldn’t afford to wait for Chicago,” he said.
Irvine, Calif.-based Kawasaki Motors, an organization that has standardized on Windows, is in no hurry to upgrade to Chicago. “Let some other people get the early experience,” stated Roger Peterson, MIS director. “Based on Microsoft’s reputation of bringing products to market, I expect it will be late next year before we upgrade.”
However, some users are more enthusiastic. Richard Villa, the sales manager at Pixel Labs, Ontario, Calif., is already sold on Chicago. “I’m married into Microsoft programs,” he declared. “I predict that the power users will move to Chicago the day it is released. The corporate types will probably move over once applications are available in 32-bit.”
“The Windows 4.0 release is something desperately needed to take away the DOS problems,” said Karl Heckart, data resource manager, Arizona Department of Administration, Data Management Division, in Phoenix. It would not be a major issue for Heckart if Chicago is late, but he said he is concerned about initial stability and hardware upgrade costs. “Our average PC is running four megabytes,” Heckart said.
Chicago, according to Microsoft reports, runs on 4Mb, although improved performance vs. Windows 3.1 applications is only indicated for 8Mb configurations.
On the server side, Microsoft is trying to take a bite out of Unix with its Windows NT 3.1 Advanced Server and high-end NT client. The NT upgrade, code-named Daytona, is currently in beta and due soon. It features improved performance, more efficient use of memory and works better with other network systems such as NetWare from Novell Inc., Provo, Utah.
Cairo, the next NT upgrade, is due the second half of 1995, although a growing consensus places that delivery further out. Cairo will replace older storage and systems management models with a new object-oriented file system, a unified management scheme and a new data directory.
Microsoft is the firm most likely to set desktop standards. The company knows how to make the most of both its setbacks and its victories. For instance, by giving in a little bit, the company gained free rein recently when it settled a four-year federal antitrust investigation. Microsoft agreed to some relatively narrow changes in the way it offers volume discounts to original equipment manufacturers.
MICROSOFT: THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
* New user interface
* Supports Win32 API
* Does not require MS-DOS
* Preemptive multitasking, multithreads for 32-bit programs
Due: Early 1995
* Object file system
* Advanced software component support
* RPC-based distributed computing?
* Touted as “excellent 16Mb system”
* Supports 16- to 32-bit OLE 2.0 apps
* Faster printing and networking
* Supports “Hermes” system management option
Due: Summer 1994
SOURCES: MICROSOFT CORP., SOFTWARE MAGAZINE
A TALE OF THREE CITIES. Mysterious code names are giving way to actual product details on Microsoft’s next operating systems. Supporting 32-bit OLE applications, Daytona, sometimes called “NT Lite,” is expected imminently.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Wiesner Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group