MS zero-admin plans hit compatibility snags

Microsoft Corp. is backing off on its plan to integrate support for current and next-generation Zero Administration Windows technologies into Windows 98, causing concern for corporations looking to incorporate the operating system.

Delays in getting core ZAW components such as IntelliMirror, which automatically mirrors a user's data to a server, into the Windows NT 5.0 beta are likely to result in similar delays of those management features for Windows 98, according to Microsoft officials in Redmond, Wash.

"It's things like this that convince me I can't trust my whole enterprise to Microsoft," said Scott Turvey, vice president of technical services at Nicholas Applegate Capital Management Inc., in Irvine, Calif. "Anyone caught off guard by this is naive."

IntelliMirror is first expected as part of Windows NT 5.0 Beta 2, whose release date has been pushed back from the end of this year to sometime in the first half of next year. Windows 98 is due in the second quarter of next year. Microsoft, however, is unsure whether it can synchronize the delivery of IntelliMirror on the two operating systems.

In addition, Microsoft officials in August said ZAK (Zero Administration Kit) would make it into Windows 98. ZAK, released in mid-1997 for Windows 95, gives administrators greater control of desktops. Now only a minor subset of ZAK will be included in the operating system.

In addition, Microsoft plans to include only a portion of IntelliMirror in Windows 98.

Automatic backup to registries, remote booting and network caching of users' desktops will not be supported in Windows 98, according to Phil Holden, product manager in Microsoft's Windows Platform Group. The operating system will support AppStation and TaskStation policies now supported under ZAK in Windows 95.

As a result, Windows 98 clients will be far less manageable than NT 5.0 workstation clients, Holden said. That should come as no surprise, officials contend, because Windows 98 is targeted at home users who do not require advanced manageability features.

Some corporate customers, however, said Microsoft's ever-changing messages make it very difficult to plan. For example, one user said Microsoft is pitching Windows 98 as a consumer-only product. However, this week Holden said Windows 98 can be run in corporations.

"I cannot bet my business on Microsoft's plans because they've done a bad job communicating the real deal to major accounts," said a Windows beta tester and chief technical officer at a large Southwest organization.

For many buyers, delays and confusion over Windows positioning means a stagnation in implementation of new technologies. "For us, this means we won't move forward quickly because we don't know where things are going," said Charles Urban, program analyst at the Social Security Administration, in Baltimore.