Windows NT 5.0 beta testers are urging a slow, steady course in developing the next-generation client/server OS amid a rising tide of mixed signals from Microsoft about the product's readiness.
The most official word about the release of Beta 3 of NT 5.0 came recently from Microsoft chief financial officer Greg Maffei, who said the beta edition would ship in the first quarter of 1999.
Ed Muth, group product manager for NT enterprise marketing, concurred but left open the possibility that Beta 3 might debut by the end of the year.
In addition to honing hardware support, installation procedures, and internationalisation issues, Microsoft must fully integrate COM+, the upgrade to the Component Object Model (COM) and the "convoy-style clustering" in Cluster Server, Muth said. Microsoft has also added support for OpenGL and Direct 3D into NT 5.0, according to one source.
Muth would not comment on a final release date, but said Microsoft would not release NT 5.0 and then immediately follow it up with a Service Pack to provide full functionality. That was good news to many users who warned against releasing the product before it is ready.
"I consider [Beta 2] to be very early beta stuff," said Jim Squire, an IT manager at Washington State University. "I don't know how they can push it out in March."
Another area in need of shoring up is NT 5.0's mobile capabilities.
Similar to the problems notebook vendors had with the transition from Windows 95 to Windows 98, there is still some question if all of NT 5.0's power management and hot-plug capabilities will work on all notebook systems.
"Vendors may tell customers they are NT 5.0-ready, but the real question is, are they NT 5.0-capable?" said one notebook OEM, who requested anonymity.
According to one representative at IBM, Microsoft would rather delay NT 5.0 Workstation than ship it before it lived up to its mobile promises.
One of those promises is the capability to access Intel's Preboot Execution technology for troubleshooting, system administration, and software downloads.
NT 5.0's IntelliMirror will offer Preboot Execution as a menu choice, according to one source.
Preboot Execution boots a remote system directly to the server rather than to the local hard drive so the IT manager can gain access when needed.
Despite the promise of the new OS, one IT manager can't wait.
"We're going to turn all workstations over in mid-'99. We have 75MHz to 150MHz systems and we just can't wait [for NT 5.0] with the current hardware restrictions," said Robert Long, IT manager for Dow's marketing and sales global technology centre in Michigan.