Compaq Computer and Microsoft last week outlined a broad agreement aimed at making their competing operating system platforms more interoperable, and adding some high-end features to Windows NT.
Compaq will work to help Microsoft incorporate into Windows NT technologies available in Compaq's Tandem NonStop Kernel, Digital OpenVMS and Digital Unix operating systems, according to officials from the two companies speaking during a press conference last week.
The project involves the exchange of "intellectual property, know-how and people" that will lead to more robust use of NT, said John Rose, senior vice president and group general manager of Compaq's Enterprise Computing Group. "The customer base is telling us that they're spending a lot of time and money on year 2000 initiatives and Euro initiatives, but there are a lot of pent-up initiatives that are going to exist for the enterprise when they get past those two hurdles."
To assist with those enterprise projects, the companies said that the following Compaq technologies will be incorporated into NT:
Clustered transactional and recovery services;Remote mirroring technology;Clustered file system infrastructure and management;Data and file partitioning infrastructure; Software tools for high availability systems operation;Remote system management and system health detection services.
In addition, the companies will add support for Microsoft's COM (Component Object Model) to Compaq's Digital UNIX, and will work on interoperability in the areas of security, Active Directory, transaction processing and data management.
According to the companies, some of these technologies will also be implemented on OpenVMS and the Tandem NonStop Kernel platforms which will enhance interoperability between them and Windows NT.
Rose and Paul Maritz, Microsoft group vice president, platforms and applications, declined to offer specifics about how the technologies will be integrated into Windows NT. Maritz also refused to reveal whether Microsoft is paying for use of the technologies or to provide details regarding terms of the agreement.
The initiative with Compaq is designed to "accelerate suitability of Windows NT for the most demanding enterprise applications", Maritz said.
The project will encompass versions of Windows NT after the release of 5.0, Maritz said, adding that a lot of work is going into improving Windows NT's use for high-end enterprise applications in the next version. The launch date for Windows NT 5.0 has not been officially set and although it had been expected out this year, it is likely to be released next year, a Microsoft official said last month.
Whatever the likely schedule for NT 5.0, Rose said the agreement means that "customers can buy safely today", investing in whatever operating system they choose, from OpenVMS to Digital Unix to Windows NT. While it's hard to forecast how well the initiative will work for enterprise customers, one analyst thinks that the joint effort is likely to reach its intended interoperability goals.
"I think over time it shows promise," said James Gruener of the Aberdeen Group.
In recent years, Windows NT has been used to operate more enterprise-level applications such as online transaction processing and the Internet, so "the line between where you divide business critical applications [on different operating systems] is starting to blur", he said.
But compared to Unix, Windows NT remains a young operating system.
"It's just really getting its training wheels," Gruener said, adding that Windows NT still has some way to go before it is ready to handle deployment across the enterprise.
It's not likely that NT will take over that market from Unix, he suggested. Rather, corporations are finding that they need to maintain mixed environments with, for instance, NT running on the front side of database applications and Unix on the back end, making interoperability all the more crucial.
The deal between Microsoft and Compaq was reached just last week, although it has been in the works for some time, Microsoft's Maritz said.