NT looking great -- on paper
April 21, 1999
by Steven Brody
(IDG) -- Windows NT isn't quite the juggernaut the media has cracked it up to be, according to research from International Data Corp. (IDC). The media and successful marketing by Microsoft, says the Framingham, MA-based think tank, has been blowing the operating system's success out of proportion. Despite the hype, says IDC, Unix flavors and NetWare are here to stay.
"Media reports often leave the impression that Windows NT is being adopted by organizations of all sizes for every conceivable mission and that organizations are abandoning their investments in other operating environments," said Dan Kuznetsky, program director for IDC's operating environments and serverware research programs. "However, when IDC shines the light of empirical research on Windows NT usage, a different view emerges."
According to IDC, NT is used primarily as a departmental infrastructure server, for things like file/print, messaging, and communications, rather than as a major enterprise server running mission-critical applications. The rest is just good advertising.
"Microsoft is very good at momentum marketing. It can turn reports of strong growth in revenues, software licenses shipments, or clients being supported into a message that Windows NT is becoming the de facto standard," Kuznetsky said.
Microsoft has made compelling use of its number one position in OS shipments, a title it has held since 1997, billing itself as the standard bearer, and marketing itself with a single voice. The fragmented Unix market, by contrast, has expended so much time and energy positioning its products against one another, that Redmond has succeeded in taking some of the spoils.
Mike Foster, director of marketing for the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), agrees Microsoft has waged a successful marketing campaign, but is certain that NT cannot live up to its promises.
"[Microsoft has] built loyalty at the end-user level, including upper management," said Foster. "That works for a while in the early stages of a product, but after a couple of years the blush fades from the rose. It's reality versus marketing."
Unix does lead NT in revenues, which, says IDC, means customers are willing to pay more for a premium product. A typical Unix server, said Kuznetsky, supports roughly 25 clients, a typical NetWare server supports 25 to 30 clients, and an NT-based system supports about 16 clients.
"NetWare shipped over a million copies in 1998," said Kuznetsky, "That isn't exactly dying. The only OS that declined in 1998 was OS/2. That goes to show that quality is not sufficient, since technically, [OS/2] is a great product. A mediocre product that is well marketed will always beat out a good product that isn't [well marketed]."
Unix vendors and Novell have always billed scalability and reliability as their strong suits. Even so, says Kuznetsky, when decision makers think reliability and scalability, they think NT.
NT's frequent disappointments, counters Sun's director of marketing for Solaris, Brian Croll, are finally beginning to erode Microsoft's dominant image.
"People who have tried to use NT outside of a workgroup environment and seen it fail, have retrenched with Unix," said Croll. "[Microsoft's] reality distortion is wearing off, and people are making more informed decisions."
SCO's Foster agrees, going so far as to say that "Unix is back in vogue."
Whatever the perception of NT, says IDC, most organizations are not quick to abandon their investments in computing solutions. When they do, it's usually as a result of a merger, acquisition, or major change in organizational mission.
"In many cases, Windows NT has been brought in to work alongside the operating environments that were already in place in the mid-1990s -- supporting the organization's application portfolios rather than replacing them," Kuznetsky said.
While Microsoft is to be congratulated in its successful marketing campaign, IDC says the bottom line is that there is no single OS that fits the bill for every application.
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