World] March 1, 2000
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.
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.
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
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.
$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
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
if you have $1500-$1700 extra lying around, you might want to pick one
of these up early to try it out .