Awaiting the elusive NT 5.0

Those of you who have been breathing in the vapours of the perpetually late Windows NT 5.0 are going to have to hold your breath for quite a few months more.

Microsoft's elusive next-gen network operating system (remember Cairo?) now probably won't be ready until mid-1999. Maybe.

The whole NT 5.0 saga has been a frustrating read. First there was Cairo (the original code name for the follow-on to NT 3.51), which was supposed to ship way back in 1995. As that year came to a close with no sign of Cairo being anywhere near complete, Microsoft scrambled to get bits of Cairo ready for release as NT 4.0, which shipped (finally) in September 1996.

At that time, Microsoft said NT 5.0 (ie, the rest of Cairo, including the directory service) would ship in late 1997 or early 1998. Actually, for several months Microsoft contemplated the idea of releasing the directory as an add-on to NT 4.0, to provide an interim solution to customers before NT 5.0 would be available. But, obviously, that never happened.

As work progressed on NT 5.0, the release date became more and more distant. Earlier this year, Microsoft said it was almost pretty sure it would have the NOS out by late 1998 or early in 1999. However, delays in the beta testing cycle are making mid-1999 look more likely.

While all this is going on, the next service pack for NT 4.0 is also behind schedule. Many of the Microsoft developers who should be working on Service Pack 4 (SP4) have been pulled over to the NT 5.0 project.

Problem is, one of the key elements of SP4 is a fix that addresses year 2000 compliance issues with the file manager functions in NT 4.0. Microsoft has said SP4 will be available in late 1998.

So, it's waiting time for all those network administrators with NT 4.0 running on servers spread throughout their organisations who would like to get started on the year 2000 upgrade process for those servers.

If SP4 ships at the end of the year, you'll have 12 months to apply the fix. The other option is to upgrade to a fully year 2000-compliant, but guaranteed-to-be-unstable, NT 5.0 if it becomes available next year -- with possibly less than six months to go before the clock runs down on Dec. 31, 1999.

Up until the announcement of the latest delay in NT 5.0, Microsoft had been advising NT 4.0 customers who were worried about year 2000 issues to think about upgrading quickly to NT 5.0 when it became available.

With NT 5.0 not likely to appear for almost another year, it will be interesting to see what Microsoft's advice is now.

Our advice, for those who want it, is to apply Service Pack 4 for NT 4.0 when it's available. And then wait until you've cleared the year 2000 hurdle before thinking about upgrading to NT 5.0.

And then wait some more.

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