Microsoft claimed this week that only 29 per cent of NT's failures are down to problems with the operating system itself.
In a briefing on the status of Windows 2000, Vince Orgovan, Microsoft's program manager for Windows NT reliability, claimed user perception of Windows 2000 is that it is as good as Netware and Unix.
He cited a customer example, aero engine makers Pratt and Whitney, that reported a 10 fold improvement in the reboot rate from previous versions of Windows.
Orgavan then dished out some revealing statistics about what contributes to NT failure. The largest contributing factor relates to kernel problems, but 18 per cent are said to be due to third party certified device drivers, eight per cent to anti-virus products and a further seven per cent to third party device drivers that are not on the hardware compatibility list.
This still leaves 38 per cent due to other factors, largely tied to applications like Outlook, to be included with Windows 2000, which is notorious for being resource hungry and unstable in certain environments. Surprisingly though, Orgavan chose to home in on the anti-virus vendors as particular culprits.
"The AV products paint a bleak picture on the problem of getting information about failure but we've invited them all to our labs so we can work together," he said.
According to Andy Harris, chief technology office with Content Technologies, a content provider vendor that works with the AV community: "A lot of the AV manufacturers are living in the past. Too many have ported straight form a 16bit world without thinking about rewriting for 32bit platforms."
In Harris's view sloppy third party product development is at least partly responsible, but he is not convinced that Microsoft is doing all it can.
"Service Pack 4 was a mess, they don't worry enough about compatibility between issues," he said.
However, Orgavan said that in Windows 2000, the operating system will, "Defend itself aggressively against the replacement of about 300 key files."
This means that if a program seeks to replace it, the operating system will allow that but will replace the .old file with the existing file to act as a backup.
Jan Hruska, technical director with AV vendor Sophos commented, "Microsoft claimed that in 80 per cent of cases where things failed, an AV tool was running. But what about the other applications?"
On Microsoft's commitment to assist the AV community, Hruska added, "It would help us a lot if they would explain how file formats are changing from one application release to another. This is a constant headache."
But on the question of hardware device failure, Orgavan has a confusing story. The testing procedures are different for Windows 2000 and its 64bit offering, currently under development.
The requirements for the 64bit version are said to be much more stringent and Orgavan believes this will allow Microsoft to create a 'gold list' of devices that presumably will fail a lot less frequently. This will create a dual standard position but more importantly, leaves open the value of Microsoft's compatibility requirements.
"Our partners would kill us if we made life really tough. They have to get to market quickly - it's a problem," he said.
But this is going to create difficulty for people specifying equipment because even the Compaq's and Dell's of this world source from the cheapest place possible and with that come the inevitable compromises.
However, Orgavan assured his audience that Windows 2000 would be "significantly" more reliable than its predecessors and that in recognising its problems, Service Pack 5 will be bug fix only and that it is already working on Service Pack 6.
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