The Ghosts of Windows Past

Tech Analysis: Former and present eWEEK Labs analysts look back on their Windows testing experiences.

Windows 3.0

Windows [3.0] also looks, correctly, as if it was designed to run multiple programs at once, unlike the Macintosh, whose system was originally single-tasking.—PC WEEK, Oct. 1, 1990

Looking back at my reviews of Windows 3.0, Im reminded of the cumbersome transition it represented from DOS. The process of installing an application and making it GUI-accessible got paragraphs of discussion—a far cry from the ease of installation that we take for granted now.


Those reviews also remind me of the leaps that Windows 3.0 took beyond the Macintosh, notably in multitasking. Whether Microsoft imitated Apples GUI or whether they both stole from Xerox (to use Bill Gates own metaphor) is a trifle compared with an 11-year head start on user-friendly pre-emptive multitasking.

Another notable feature of the Windows 3.0 scene was the number of active competitors in mainstream productivity applications.

/zimages/2/28571.gifWhat if Windows never happened? Click here to read more.

Until they were ready for Windows, Windows wasnt ready for the enterprise. Microsoft learned to write good GUI applications by investing in Macintosh development six years before the shipment of Windows 3.0, giving the Mac a real chance to compete.

But Microsoft moved on more quickly than Apple did, and the world of desktop computing today reflects that.

Peter Coffee, started at PC Week in 1989 and currently eWEEK technology editor

Windows 3.1

A useful new feature is Windows 3.1s ability to respond to the reboot keystrokes Control-Alt-Delete. ... Unfortunately, [during tests] the offending program was often Windows itself.—PC WEEK, Jan. 13, 1992

Windows 3.1 and IBMs OS/2 2.0 were released in roughly the same time frame, and both had extensive public betas.

This was during the era when "online" for us meant the Ziffnet section of CompuServe, and discourse on OS issues was as angry and uncivil as any political topic today.

A group of far-too-vocal readers lobbied us relentlessly to give only praise to OS/2 and grief to Windows, and I dont recall many readers rushing to Microsofts defense.

I think we held up to the pressure pretty well, and Im sure everyone who wrote for us on these subjects provided their honest Opinions. I dont think Ive felt as much pressure on a story ever since.

Larry Seltzer, formerly PC Week technical director and currently eWEEK.coms Security Center editor

Windows NT Advanced Server

With Windows NT Advanced Server, Microsoft Corp. is poised to take on Novell Inc.s NetWare to be networking king of the hill, but it will be an uphill battle.—PC WEEK, Aug. 16, 1993

In mid-1993, PC networking was one of the more stable technologies for corporate IT. If you werent running Unix, you were running Novells NetWare. NetWare was fast and reliable, and its market was the one that Microsoft was targeting with the introduction of Windows NT Advanced Server.

Our evaluation of Windows NT AS proved to be a major disappointment for Microsoft—the best we could say was that the product showed promise as an application server platform. When compared with NetWare, Windows NT AS required more of everything (memory, CPU and storage), and it delivered similar performance only in a very small subset of the testing.

We also discovered bugs in the product during testing. Microsoft was quick to fix the problems we found, but our overall feeling was that this was yet another "good try" at taking on Novell and, at best, a learning experience for Microsoft.

Considering the significant improvements made to the subsequent generation of NT Server, it was a lesson well-learned.

David Chernicoff, formerly PC Week technical director and currently senior contributing editor, Windows IT Pro magazine

Windows 95

In a simple world, the decision of whether and how fast to upgrade [to Windows 95] would be a simple one. But the world isnt simple.—PC WEEK, Aug. 21, 1995

When thinking back to my reviews of Windows 95—both the beta and release versions—my most vivid memory is how intensely competitive the market was.

At the same time, the general public was more interested in Windows 95 than in any other Microsoft product, before or since. I would bet that this release was a high point for Microsoft in its ability to hold the attention of average people.

I was getting lots of questions from uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings on Windows 95 long before it came out. I doubt many could correctly define Windows Vista.

In hindsight, Im also struck that the Windows interface hasnt changed much in more than a decade. Its taken the resurgence of the Macintosh (in Mac OS X) and Linux making inroads on the server for Microsoft to begin another truly major overhaul of Windows.

Competition is good for everyone.

Eamonn Sullivan, formerly PC Week advanced technologies analyst and currently a financial and legal editor based in London

Windows NT 4.0

Its the Internet/intranet improvements ... that should make Windows NT 4.0 a compelling upgrade for users of NT 3.x.—PC WEEK, Aug. 5, 1996

The benchmarking and feature testing of Windows NT 4.0 involved nearly everyone in the Labs. Our collective opinion of NT 4.0 was generally, if not effusively, positive—we concluded that NT 4.0 was basically NT 3.5 with more Internet capabilities and a better interface.

But my fondest memory of our NT 4.0 evaluation came after the initial review, when we were approached by consultants from OReilly to confirm an interesting bit of information: It turned out that one could convert NT Workstation into NT Server simply by changing two registry keys—meaning that the main difference between the two was licensing and cost (and that these two keys were apparently worth several hundred dollars).

Jim Rapoza, started at PC Week in 1993 and currently eWEEK Labs director

Windows 98

In many ways, Windows 98 is a victim of timing. With corporate-focused NT 5.0 due next year, upgrading now as an interim step doesnt make sense—especially since NT 5.0 is expected to eliminate the feature gap between Windows 9x and Windows NT.—PC WEEK, June 16, 1998

Just before I reviewed Windows 98, Microsoft and the Justice Department had locked horns over the issue of an integrated Internet Explorer. With the help of a tip from a reader, I removed four lines of code in the Windows 98 beta and Windows 95 OSR2 (OEM Service Release 2) setup files and prevented IE from installing—with no ill effects and, indeed, some beneficial ones.

The only things I couldnt do were access the Windows Help Table of Contents (no loss, believe me) and use the befuddling Active Desktop on Windows 98.

I was lukewarm on Windows 98—I felt that most new features would cause problems for administrators, and Windows 2000 (then called NT 5.0) was allegedly due a year later.

The most memorable aspects of my testing included time wasted on FAT32 disk upgrade testing and benchmarking on the 486DX2- and Pentium-based PCs of the day.

Windows 98s improved hardware support made it much more palatable for notebook PCs, though, and it is still a great option for low-end systems and old-school gaming.

Windows 98 also introduced many users to the concept of software that updates itself—a mixed blessing, indeed.

Michael Caton, eWEEK Labs technical analyst, started at PC Week in 1989

Windows 2000

Windows 2000s multilevel directory, Internet standards, quota-enabled file system, and built-in transaction and queuing services earn it a PC Week Labs Analysts Choice award.—PC WEEK, Dec. 20/27, 1999

Just a week before Christmas 1999, Microsoft gave PC Week analysts the gift of Windows 2000.

Unfortunately for my fellow network OS testers, I was several time zones away when Windows 2000 invaded our labs.

Few things in life are as boring as running server benchmarks in an icy-cold lab, but, even though I was off on a beautiful tropical beach, celebrating the end of 1999, Id have given it all up in a second to take part in those tests. (Or not.)

Henry Baltazar, senior analyst, started at PC Week in 1997

Cursing Henrys name made benchmarking slightly less painful, but, by 5 a.m., even that was of little solace. Fortunately, the late night paid off, and we were able to get several clean file and Web serving results that clearly demonstrated W2Ks performance improvements over NT.

A week later, we did a roundup comparing four Active Directory migration tools and invited half a dozen of our Corporate Partners to participate. It was another grueling but equally rewarding project. I quit two weeks later.

Kevin Young, formerly PC Week Labs senior analyst and currently infrastructure manager at Currenex

They were heady times—Microsoft stock was at its all-time high of about $60 a share, and Windows 2000 was just released.

After roughly 30 straight hours of testing, we knew the quality of the code (although Microsoft seemed to think it was a lot better than we did) and needed a drink.

Microsoft never saw $60 again (its down, split adjusted), and Im still waiting for that drink.

Pankaj Chowdhry, formerly PC Week Labs technical director and currently president and CIO of Third Pillar

Windows XP

XP is so close a cousin to Windows 2000 that sites running Windows 2000 on their desktop systems neednt worry about migrating unless they plan to take specific advantage of XP-only features such as Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop.—eWEEK, Sept. 3, 2001

I found the launch of Windows XP to be very exciting, if only because it sounded the death knell for Windows 9x (a product line that Microsoft had kept alive long past its prime). Although I had already moved on to Windows 2000 by the time XP came along, Id experienced enough Blue Screens of Death, mysterious RAM shortages and preventive reboots to cheer the 9x lines demise.

XP united the home and professional editions of Windows under a single code base—into what amounted, somewhat disappointingly, to Windows 2000 with a shinier default theme. The paucity of new functionality—particularly where business and power users were concerned—wouldve been OK, had Microsoft seized the moment to begin tackling innovative new features. But Microsoft had been too busy plugging security gaps to build much interest atop its now-unified client OS.

The Windows feature-stall hasnt been all bad, however. For me, the time Ive not spent digesting intriguing new additions to Windows has given me—and others, I imagine—plenty of opportunity to pursue developments in other platforms, such as Linux.

Jason Brooks, senior analyst, eWEEK Labs (1999 to present)

Windows Server 2003

The release of Windows Server 2003 is a small step forward for the platform— an effort that really should be considered Windows 2000 Server Second Edition.—eWEEK, April 21, 2003

The changes we saw in our tests of IIS 6.0, part of our April 2003 review of Windows Server 2003, added up to a complete rethink of Microsofts former features-first security architecture. IIS 6.0 implemented a host of best practices from the Unix Web server space, including policies of shipping with all extensions disabled and running under a user account instead of a system account.

Now, more than two years later, its clear that those policy changes have worked. Security vulnerability tracker Secunia has recorded only two vulnerabilities against IIS 6.0 (both of moderate or lower severity) versus 12 for IIS 5.0 (five of which were rated highly or extremely critical).

IIS 6.0 hasnt been a vector for the many worms that feasted on IIS 5.0, and thats been great news for Microsoft customers and for the Internet as a whole.

Timothy Miller Dyck, formerly eWEEK technical director, currently editor and publisher of Canadian Mennonite magazine

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