You better watch your back end

You better watch your back end

Loose cables is an irreverent look behind the scenes at testing computer products, in particular at IDG's Infoworld lab in the US. Our insights are gleaned during the long hours spent testing, and even longer hours spent sorting through outrageous vendor claims and press releases. Some of the insights are technical, some are political, and some are just funWhile the hubbub about browser/OS integration continues to bubble, Microsoft is frying much bigger fish with its upcoming release of Windows NT 5.0. Never mind transient browser technology: NT 5.0 will use TCP/IP as its native protocol (no more dependencies on Win-centric NetBIOS), DNS will replace the proprietary Windows Internet naming service, and LDAP-based active directory displaces NT's homegrown domain model. Version 5.0 will also utilise Kerberos for its security model -- another open standard "integrated" into Windows.

Why isn't the Department of Justice picking on Bill Gates for these moves? These new features are far more critical to the back-end architecture of the Internet than client-side browsing capabilities. Who else foresees an increase in the number of NT boxes providing Net, name, and directory services after NT 5.0 comes out? Bickering about Windows 95/98 is pointless; NT is where Microsoft is going. Can't we just let OEMs fend for themselves on this dead-end issue for the next few years?

A final irony: we thought everyone wanted Microsoft to embrace open Net standards all along and move away from proprietary architectures. Why would anyone stop Microsoft from implementing such standards in its software? With the integration of Net technologies into the core of Windows, haven't we gotten just what we were asking for?

What goes around

We prefer to keep our laughs in the lab, but we'd like to give ink to an electronic Happy Meal we received recently: the Internet Cleaning memo. If you haven't seen it yet, you're bound to see it soon. Though, given the lead time of this column and the soap-bubble nature of the Internet, we may end up on the rump-end of this curve. But sometimes you just have to dare to be last.

This is at least the third year the Internet Cleaning chain hoax has circulated, and we admire the anonymous Appleseeds who release it into the Ether every February 1 (a smaller flurry occurs shortly before April Fools' Day). The author line reads sysop@, and the memo begins cheerfully: "It's that time again! As many of you know, each year the Internet must be shut down for 24 hours in order to allow us to clean it."

To make the Net zippier, "five powerful Internet search engines situated around the world" will comb the wires on February 27, skimming flotsam and jetsam off FTP, Web, and Gopher sites.

To avoid data deletion, all devices should be disconnected from the Net. The letter is signed "Kim Dereksen, Inter-connected Network Maintenance Staff, Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT]."

The prank is already showing its age (when is the last time you Gophered?), but we're amused that at least a few newbies get suckered every year. We also appreciate the bogus letter's slow evolution.

This year's "powerful Internet search engines" supersede 1996's "powerful Internet-crawling robots".

Must've been all that initial public offering of cash. The 1996 version also noted the pruning need only occur during leap years, on February 29. Of course, that was pre-Drudge Report.

One constant is the signature line. There's no reference to Ms Dereksen at MIT's Web site (that would have been thorough of the original author), and several name searches on the Web turned up nada.

Like a Tamagotchi, Kim appears to be a virtual creation. Wonder if she'd go out with Netwit?

Product of the year; by the Test Centre

It's our favourite meeting of the year. Heck, we'll own up and admit it's just about the only meeting we don't need to be plied with pastries to attend.

Late every December, we gather for an afternoon of battling over who wins and who doesn't in our Product of the Year.

Associate Editor Karen Mitchell solicited Product of the Year contenders from Test Center staff before the meeting, and each of us came prepared to defend our favourites.

Sometimes the debate was a little like that Henry Fonda flick, Twelve Angry Men. Groans greeted the nomination of anything from Microsoft, but the proponents of Office 97 and NetMeeting made their cases and the products eventually made the cut.

Another point of contention concerned a new classification, Technology of the Year. What exactly did we want to spotlight in the category? Was it an emerging technology with a lot of potential or one that had outgrown its adolescence?

We chose the former course, then decided not to limit the category to just one pick. Despite each winner's promise, each is immature in some way and we expect the growing pains to continue for a while.

Java is too slow, Extensible Markup Language lacks a standard, and streaming media requires bandwidth that most networks can't deliver.

Although virtual private networks may be a good substitute for leased lines, they aren't a satisfactory remote-access solution yet.

Still, we think four technologies are here to stay and deserve recognition.

Our Product of the Year awards need no such disclaimer.

The biggest computing stories of 1997 may have been initial public offerings, mergers, legal tussles and antitrust investigations.

Yet through the sound and fury, many companies were busy delivering outstanding hardware and software tools.

This week's Loose Cables contributors were Chip Brookshaw, Sean Dugan, Karen Mitchell, Joel Scambray and Dylan Tweney. Hey vendors, bidding is open for this year's favourable coverage. Send payola to

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