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Newsletter Section 5

Across the Pond

NT Workstation 4.0: Bad News for Web Servers

(Tim O'Reilly)

You may have already heard that in Microsoft's NT Workstation 4.0, functionality will be significantly reduced. If you want to run any Web server (O'Reilly's, Microsoft's, or others') on NT, you'll have to buy an NT Server for $999. The implications of Microsoft's actions are serious for the Web community, and I encourage you to help spread the word about it.

First, the facts: NT Workstation 4.0 will limit the number of unique IP addresses which can contact a Web server to 10 or fewer in a 10-minute period. No previous version of NT Workstation has contained this limitation. Of course, this effectively eliminates NT Workstation as an option for Internet or Intranet Web server usage.

Now, the implications: this development will choke off one of the most important new directions for the Web: its return to its roots as a groupware information sharing system for the desktop. Like email and the PC itself, Web publishing belongs on the desktop. With the higher price tag of NT Server ($999 vs. $290), users who have never before put up a web site will be extremely unlikely to do so.

This move by Microsoft will hurt the efforts of Web developers, Intranet developers, and Internet service providers, a great many of whom have been happy to create sites on NT Workstation. Microsoft has been saying that IIS (the Web server they include with NT Server) is free, and quite clearly, this is now exposed as untrue. Developers will have to stick with the older NT Workstation operating system if they want to use any server other than IIS (noted for its security problems), or will have to upgrade and pay extra for the server of their choice.

Chief WebSite developer Bob Denny says: "When I first started developing Web servers in 1994, nearly all Web serving was done on the UNIX platform. Considering that companies such as O'Reilly & Associates, Netscape, and a half dozen more, pushed hard in the fight to legitimize NT vs. UNIX as a Web server platform over the last 18 months, Microsoft's actions are pretty extreme."

I've sent email to Bill Gates to let him know of my personal concern about the impact of his plans on Web users and developers. I encourage anyone interested in maintaining the open systems nature of the Web to send email to Microsoft, post this news on their sites and in newsgroups, and write letters to editors, to put pressure on Microsoft to reverse their decision. They've reversed such decisions before, when people have expressed their opinions about an important issue such as this.

Tim O'Reilly is the Chief Executive of O'Reilly & Associates Inc

Web pushes X Consortium out of the Window

The growth of the Web will send a vast number of technologies and organisations to meet their makers. The latest to fall to its clutches is the X Consortium, developer of the X Windows graphical networking system for UNIX. The Cambridge, Massachusetts based, not-for-profit organisation will wind up all of its activities and pass all of its technologies and intellectual property rights over to the new-fangled Open Group software development-cum-standards body by the end of 1996. The Consortium admits the Web has brought X to the end of its development life and has already detailed plans to allow X Windows users to access applications from Web browsers via a new X release due by the end of 1996, called Broadway plus plug-ins.

The X Consortium says that with most vendors' development resources going into building Web-based technologies, there has been less and less demand for innovative development on the UNIX operating system and therefore on X Windows. Its own charter doesn't extend beyond the X world and it said it would have needed up to $10M to begin to develop off-Broadway attractions.

Although few applications are now developed exclusively for X Windows, it doesn't mean the graphical networking technology will be going away in a hurry. All of the UNIX hardware vendors still ship X as the key graphics component of their UNIX system software.

X Windows was created under the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Project Athena programme; the first version was released ten years ago. The not-for-profit X Consortium was spun out of MIT in 1993 in the middle of the UNIX GUI wars - this was when Sun Microsystems Inc and Open Software Foundation members were trying to establish their respective X-based Open Look and Motif graphical windowing systems as the de facto interface for UNIX. The rise of the Web is the biggest testament to what a waste of money the GUI wars were. By the time a peace settlement managed to bring a bastard child, the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) to life, most of the industry was already more interested in developing for the Internet.

The X Consortium became the prime contractor for the development of Open Software Foundation CDE and Motif and will deliver final versions of both, along with X Windows to OSF's successor, the Open Group, by the end of 1996.

The X Consortium has more than 30 engineers none of whom are expected to move over to the Open Group.

Reproduced from unigram.x - the weekly information newsletter for the UNIX community worldwide. Number 597, July 1996.

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