NOTE: This article is an archived copy for portfolio purposes only, and may refer to obsolete products or technologies. Old articles are not maintained for continued relevance and accuracy.
December 3, 1997

Let Me Up I've Had Enough

I've just stripped all traces of NetWare off my production network, replacing it with NT Server and related products. Some of you are thinking "yeah, so what?," but those of you who've known me for a while are undoubtedly somewhat surprised.

Hey, even I'm surprised! I've been spouting about NetWare's great performance, reliability, security and manageability to anybody that would listen for the last five years. When it comes to running a production network, NetWare just can't be beat.

So why am I switching? The truth is, I just didn't have a choice. Oh, sure, I had a choice between paying-the-bills and not-paying-the-bills, but that hardly counts. Out of the five projects on my plate right now, three involve products that rely heavily on Windows NT. In order for me to work with these products effectively, I've got to live with them, and that means using NT on a daily basis.

Although I've had a variety of NT systems on my test network for years, I've always stuck with NetWare on my production LAN due to the benefits that only it provided. But with less and less third-party providers for NetWare—and with the ever-increasing number of third-party products that only work on NT —that value has dwindled to the point where it just doesn't justify the time and effort required to manage two network architectures.

NT Sucks

When I first began the move to NT, I started by migrating all the data off my existing production NetWare server, blowing away the disk partitions and installing NT Server 4.0 (along with the requisite patches) onto the old NetWare system. After that, I did it again, correcting the mistakes I'd made during the first attempt. The first time through I specified that the new server was to be a backup domain controller, and had to re-install the software in order to fix this simple mistake.

Once that was straightened out, I started adding network services to the system, replacing the ones I'd just thrown out. Among these were backup, web, FTP, DNS, LDAP, SMTP, POP3, AFP, NIS and NFS servers. I also wanted to move the WINS and DHCP services off of my Linux host onto the NT box, figuring that they would work better in their native environment.

Although the system I'm using is a fairly modern Pentium with 64MB of RAM and a PCI bus, the system began to creep along after only a few services had been added. So I backed off my plan and only put the stuff that's absolutely necessary for the production network to stay afloat onto the NT server. Things like basic file and print sharing, Macintosh services, and the network backup software.

The rest of the services are running on the Linux host, a 386 with 16 MB that dates back to the late '80s. Since NT on a Pentium wouldn't hold them, the Linux engine-that-could is now running my web, FTP, DNS, DHCP, WINS, SYSLOG, SMTP, IMAP, NIS and NFS services, and the SAMBA daemons that provide reverse connectivity back to the NT domain. And it's doing quite well, thank-you-very-much.

Although there are still some problems, at least the NT system runs now. Actually, "crawls" might be a better verb. Even with just a handful of services, the network throughput is noticeably slower than it was with NetWare. File transfers are a good 20% slower than they were before, even when the NetWare server was bogged down under a dozen or more services.

Hoo-Boy, It Really Sucks

And then there's printing, or the lack thereof, to be more precise. I've got an HP OfficeJet, one of those multi-function systems that provides printing, scanning, faxing and copying all in one unit. Unfortunately, it only comes with Windows 95 drivers, and although I can use a DeskJet driver with NT, typefaces come out in the wrong size, and sometimes they come out in the wrong font. I'm getting closer to figuring this out, but after a few of those $200 calls to Microsoft's technical support, I'm also learning to live with it.

NT's Macintosh printing service doesn't appear to provide editable printer definitions either, so I can't print to the OfficeJet from my Macintosh boxes. Rather, when I do try to print from my Macintosh clients using Microsoft's recommended setup, the NT print queue hangs and I have to reboot the server in order to print from any of my clients. This can be blamed on too many vendors, I suppose, although it all worked fine with NetWare.

And then there's the "Windows-native" services like LAN Manager logon scripts and user profiles—both of which are Microsoft-specific features —that don'teven work across the different versions of Windows, never mind the Mac. These services are fairly useless with my Windows 95 clients, who don't even understand NT's logon scripts. At least all of the NetWare clients can use the same logon script!

It's A Shotgun Wedding

Simply put, as a NOS, NT Server is nowhere near NetWare (and as a platform for running network services, it's nowhere near UNIX). Yet, I find I'm forced into using it simply because that's where the third-party market is. Anybody found a decent IMAP server for NetWare? Don't bother looking: there ain't one (yes, I'm including Novell's GroupWise in this assessment). But off the top of my head I can think of five IMAP vendors for Windows NT, any one of which would likely satisfy my needs (If only I had enough horsepower to run them).

And that's just one example. In any given category, from backup software to web servers, the number and variety of products that run on Windows NT far outrank the equivalent number available for NetWare, typically by a magnitude. Heck, I'd even be willing to bet there are more IPX-based products available for NT than there are for NetWare!

So the argument for-or-against has nothing to do with technical merits: on that front NetWare wins hands-down. Instead, the argument has everything to do with product availability and developer support, an area in which Microsoft totally dominates. If I want to play with Netscape's latest directory server, I'll be using Windows NT. If I want to play with Cheyenne's latest version of ARCserve, I'll be using Windows NT there as well. Even in hardware this is now the rule: many of the tape libraries and CD changers now on the market don't even ship with NetWare drivers.

To me, this really exemplifies the problem that Novell faces. They just don't have that critical base of third-party developers. Novell can talk about "superior" products until they're blue in the face (which they are), but I also remember 1-2-3 and WordPerfect singing that song to no avail. I dunno, maybe folks just don't like those lyrics.

Does Novell realize they have this problem? I don't hear much noise about their superior developer services from any of my clients. Instead, Novell seems pretty focused on getting Moab out the door, thinking that a new version of NetWare is going to solve their problems. I got news for ya, Novell: a new version of NetWare won't give you the third-party support you'll need to get back into the game.

Maybe Dr. Schmidt's refrain of providing Java interfaces to the NOS will help address this particular problem, but I'm having serious doubts about that, too. We've already seen the beginnings of Java becoming platform-specific (some call it "write once, debug everywhere"). Building a version that's optimized for Moab is probably going to be pretty low on most developers' lists.

I certainly don't think that Novell is dead-in-the-water. I mean, they haven't gone off and done something REALLY stupid like appoint Steve Jobs as CEO. But they'd better do something to fix this problem, or they'll find themselves in even more trouble. The faithful can only hold out for so long.

The funny part about all of this is that I switched from LAN Manager to NetWare a few years ago because of this very same problem. I couldn't get decent software for OS/2 no matter how hard I looked. It took a lot to get me to switch then, although I've been happy with the decision for several years. I'm not so sure I'll be happy with this one.

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Copyright © 2010-2011 Eric A. Hall.