Wintel Tries to “Embrace and Extend” the English Language

  • Written By: R. Krause
  • Published: April 3 2000


Event Summary

[PC World] March 1, 2000

After more than a month of delays, Microsoft finally announced a stripped-down version of the Windows NT operating system designed to run on appliance servers for shared Net access in offices. Don't expect to pick up a shrink-wrapped copy of Windows for Express Networks (or WEN) at a local computer store. It will only be available loaded on appliance servers, starting with Intel's InBusiness Small Office Network.

Intel's products will be available in mid-March, after some last minute testing. The servers come in two models, starting at $1300 for a Celeron-366 system.

Both of Intel's new Small Office Network servers come only with a shared 56-kbps modem and do not offer support for a broadband connection, which could be important for a small office of as many as 25 people sharing Internet access.

Microsoft touts its WEN operating system as supporting a broadband Internet connection, but Intel representatives say WEN doesn't support the extra NIC card that would allow that kind of connection. Within the next few months, both companies will offer hardware and software upgrades to enable broadband on the appliances, according to an Intel spokesperson.

The $1300 InBusiness Small Office Network features a 366-MHz Celeron processor, 64MB of memory (upgraded from 32MB), a 13GB hard drive, 56-kbps modem, and an eight-port hub. The second model, the InBusiness Small Office Network Plus, runs on a Celeron-466, and comes with 64MB of memory, a 56-kbps modem, an eight-port hub, a 13GB hard drive, and an additional 13GB removable drive for mirroring. That unit is expected to carry a street price of $1675.

Do-It-Yourself Networking

Intel's appliance server boxes are aimed at small businesses with little or no technical support staff. With them, small offices can share files and printing, and can manage equipment remotely through a Web interface. The servers will let many as 25 networked computers share Internet access. If you don't have a technical staff or know-how, WEN guides you through the set-up process with Wizards. Microsoft also plans to license its operating system to other vendors, so more WEN-powered appliance servers will be coming to market.

Microsoft planned to unveil WEN nearly a month ago. Microsoft officials wouldn't comment on reasons for the delay, but cited general "complications with Intel's manufacturing approval process." More specifically, one of Intel's server appliance models apparently didn't meet the hardware demands of the WEN operating system. So Intel upgraded the memory on its lower-end model from 32MB to 64MB. It's the additional testing for this modification that has further delayed the product's release, Intel representatives say.

Market Impact

First, let's get one thing straight: this is not an appliance (as the term is generally understood by the market), it is a small server masquerading as an appliance. [Note: For the uninitiated, the term "embrace and extend" is commonly used to refer to Microsoft's practice of taking a standard technology- Java, Kerberos, etc. - and modifying its functionality so that the non-Microsoft versions of the same standard are no longer compatible with Microsoft's version. This has its greatest effect in those markets where Microsoft is dominant.]

Wintel is now trying to jump on the server appliance bandwagon, albeit late. Intel has been thinking about selling servers under its own badge for about ten years. Until now, it has had limited success, preferring to sell through some systems companies. The Small Office Network (SON - is that a shot at Sun?) server resembles the Whistle InterJetII small server (now an IBM company and product), but is somewhat limited by comparison - try supporting a 25-person office Internet on a 56K line, see who screams first. Intel and Microsoft claim broadband will be available very soon.

We expect the SON will garner market share simply because it is Wintel, and "no one ever got fired for buying Wintel". Intel has focused on simplifying setup/installation of the server, and is targeting it at the geek-free small office. The product specs are not especially impressive - for about $100 more, the Cobalt Qube2 supports more users, runs a broadband connection, and has product history (i.e., has been in the market for over six months, versus the not-yet-shipping status of the SON). The Qube runs on Linux, which Windows-adherents may spurn, but it also supports multi-OS desktop environments, including Windows 9x and MAC OS.

The new Windows for Express Networks (WEN), although a "stripped-down" version of NT, still requires 64MB of RAM in a base configuration. Users can draw their own conclusions regarding how streamlined the OS really is. We also question the wisdom of having the product bounded at 64MB. In addition, we note that Windows refers to these appliances as "Windows Powered", which was going to be the new name for Windows CE. Is this Windows CE under a different name? No, but it certainly gets confusing after awhile.

Finally, this announcement points up that Microsoft is increasingly trying to control the hardware market. This trend started overtly with the Server Design Guides, which are more-or-less followed by the major Wintel server vendors. The difference here is that Microsoft has chosen to go straight to Intel first - is this a harbinger of future strong-arming of manufacturers?

User Recommendations

This is of interest primarily because of the participants. The feature set is middle-of-the-road, no matter how many new names one tries to give it. The price is certainly attractive, but there are offerings from other vendors priced in the same ballpark.

Because of the broadband issues, we suggest users wait until those issues are solved. Running a 25-person office on a 56K modem is not an effective strategy. Users also need to get details on the features, such as: what is the firewall? What kind of performance guarantees? Will Intel buy back the old server when I need to upgrade to something beefier since the system is sealed and not upgradeable?

But if you have $1500-$1700 extra lying around, you might want to pick one of these up early to try it out .

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