While its desktop release has been continually delayed, Windows NT 5.0 is set to become the platform of choice for mobile computers, according to an industry analyst.
Bruce McCabe, research director at Gartner Group, said NT 5.0 will "eventually develop into the platform of choice for mobiles".
Until the release of a portable version of NT 5.0, McCabe is recommending customers deploy Win 95/98 on notebooks, "because most organisations would have to go through a significant upgrade of their existing hardware fleet to get the most from NT 4.x.
"NT may make sense in specific cases where battery life and legacy hardware is not an issue, but where network security is concerned, for example, NT is especially important," McCabe said.
Microsoft has made providing NT 5.0 to businesses a priority, but its debut will be a long time coming, especially for mobile users, according to Gartner.
Gartner's US mobile analyst Ken Dulaney said NT 5.0 won't be ready for mainstream notebook use until early 2001, given its release in mid-2000 and the distribution of its first service package six months later.
Telecommuters want the manageability NT 5.0 promises, but a Gartner report warned the "migration to NT 5.0-capable machines will take years for all except the wealthiest of organisations". It will also take time until NT 5.0's features are taken advantage of by software products, and that will delay the operating systems appearance in large businesses, the report added.
Dulaney said NT 5.0's arrival on notebooks will be important, especially because major organisations may replace their desktop PCs with laptops.
McCabe said in five years time more than one-third of the corporate market would use notebook computers.
"We see the deployment of mobile computers within niches of an organisation, but it is becoming more and more general," McCabe said.
One company that has truly taken the mobile bull by the horns is consultancy Deloitte Touch Tohmatsu. National IT director Geoffrey Brown said 70 per cent of the staff were equipped with a notebook computer, more than 2000 machines in all. Brown said mobility was "inherent to the way we do business.
"From our clients' needs, we are driven more and more to a mobile environment to supply services," he said.
Brown warned some organisations may run into difficulties if and when they decided to implement NT on mobile computers.
Up to speed
"The notebooks' performance has to be up to speed," he cautioned.
"There'll be huge problems for some organisations in terms of technology when they decide to roll out NT 5.0."
Brown said the resource-hungry operating system would require a powerful notebook. The standard for Deloitte's mobile computers is a Pentium 166MHz processor, 64MB RAM and a 4GB hard drive. That specification will continue to become more powerful, Brown said.
He believes the upgrade path from Win 95/98 to NT 5.0 should be simple, while Microsoft recommends upgrading from NT 4.x to NT 5.0.
Craig Beilinson, Microsoft's Windows NT Workstation product manager, said the system architecture of NT 4.x and 5.0 would make upgrading simpler.
"The architectures of those operating systems are the same, the registries are the same. It's a pretty significant change to go from Windows 95 to NT Workstation 5.0," he said.
"Certainly, there will be issues with upgrading, but not necessarily with the NT Workstation 4.x to the NT Workstation 5.0 upgrade.
"I think many customers may see a challenge in moving from Windows 95 directly to Windows NT Workstation 5.0 because those two operating systems have a different architecture and the registry structure is different."