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September 92 - Postcard from Windowsland - Windows NT: Beyond Faith

Postcard from Windowsland - Windows NT: Beyond Faith

James Plamondon

When I was in college, I saw a copy of the Phone Book edition of Inside Mac in a local computer bookstore. After reading just the first few pages, I had a religious experience. I knew, with complete certainty, that the Mac heralded the dawn of a new age. I was certain that the graphic user interface would conquer the DOS prompt, and that the Mac would lead us into a Brave New World. (I'd seen a Lisa, before then, but the sticker shock prevented my eyes from focusing on the machine itself.) So I bought a Mac, and worked with it professionally (and quite happily) for a number of years. I was comfortable in the knowledge that I was on the fast track to the future.

Then, in 1989, I had another revelation, again in a bookstore. Bertrand Meyers' Object Oriented Software Construction leapt off the shelves and into my hands, and blew my mind. The future was made clear, and it was Object-Oriented. To combine this new belief with the old, I began using object-oriented programming on the Macintosh-with MacApp-and once more rode the leading edge of change into the future.

And it's happened again. This time, it did not come as a single, blinding flash, but as a slow process of conversion, over the course of more than a year. But now I am certain-as certain as I was about GUI's and OOP-that Windows has joined the Mac as a viable platform for developing innovative, powerful, robust applications.

Financially, the case for Windows is pretty compelling. Windows application software is now outselling Mac software. And yet, Windows is an immature market; many application niches that are crowded with competitors on the Mac, are wide-open on Windows. So, by moving your app to Windows, you widen your prospects to include a bigger, less-competitive market, in which your GUI experience will really shine.

Technologically, Windows is a lot better than you might think. Windows NT, particularly, is amazing. Some pundits have called it a mainframe operating system on the desktop, but it's better than that-way better. The guys who wrote the mainframe world's best operating system-VMS-took what they learned from that experience, plus the best of the latest in object-oriented and client-server technologies, and came up with an operating system that is BETTER than those found on today's mainframes, but which can run on any modern desktop PC. Many of the features Apple is talking about putting into the Mac OS someday-threads, pre-emptive multi-tasking, a microkernel architecture-are in Windows NT today (with thousands of software development kits in the hands of eager programmers).

Here's a brief list of some of the cool features of Windows NT :

  • Portable-Windows NT can be ported to any 32-bit CPU, and will be available, initially, on the Intel x86 line, and the MIPS RISC chip, with support for DEC's Alpha following soon thereafter. (It's easy to port Windows NT, because it's only software.)
  • Scalable-due to its support of symmetric multiprocessing, the more CPU's you cram into the box, the faster Windows NT runs. It spreads the running threads over as many CPU's as are available. Massively parallel systems can deliver Cray-like performance; we may soon be seeing such systems, running Windows NT, displacing mainframes at the heart of enterprise computing networks.
  • Secure-it was designed to meet the U.S. Government's C2 security standard, making it a shoe-in for military, governmental, and line-of-business applications.
  • Robust-structured exception handling is built into the operating system. (If you like MacApp's exception handling, you'll love Windows NT.)
  • Networkable-it provides file- and printer- sharing, and workgroup application services.
  • Kernel Archtecture-Windows NT does NOT run on top of DOS.

It's true that it takes a pretty hefty piece of hardware to run Windows NT-an Intel 386 (or higher), with at least 8Mb RAM and 100Mb or more of disk space. And that hardware can be a lot more expensive than PC users are used to paying. But PC hardware prices are plummeting, making Windows NT an increasingly-viable desktop option. And if your app needs to run on Windows 3.1 as well as Windows NT, Microsoft is working on a solution-Win32s-that will allow your code to run on both.

I'm not going to throw away my Mac T-shirts, and I wouldn't suggest that you do, either. But if it's been a while since you looked at Windows, look again-especially at Windows NT. But watch out-when looking at Windows, you might just See the Light.

 

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