Windows NT as a Personal or Intranet Server

Larry Press
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 39, No. 5, pp 19-26, May, 1996.
Thomas Erickson has commented on the widespread appearance of personal home pages on the Internet -- they are being used to construct personal and professional identities as well as to provide information [5]. We search for people as well as information on the Net [12], and finding an appropriate home page may introduce us to a new friend or colleague. The rapid growth of intranets also turns individuals and organizational departments into electronic publishers. At home and work, we are using our personal computers as servers as well as clients, and we need a suitable operating system.

Windows NT

I have decided to experiment with Microsoft Windows NT as my PC server platform because I think it will become increasingly important -- it is here to stay. My faith in NT is based on business considerations as well as technology. NT is strategic to Microsoft, and they are committed to it. Many third party application and tool developers have also jumped on the bandwagon.

Early releases of NT were poorly received, but Microsoft persists with strategic products. Versions 1 and 2 of Windows (not NT) were also unsatisfactory, and ahead of the installed hardware base, but Microsoft was learning -- building technical skill and learning about the market. When the Intel 386 arrived, they were ready with Version 3, which performed acceptably, and recouped their investment. Their support of CD-ROM followed a similar pattern -- they hung in from their first CD-ROM conference [11], through lean years, to today's booming market for drives and flood of titles. With 16 MB memory machines increasinglhy affordable, NT is catching on as you see in Table 1.

Table 1

               1993      1994      1995      1996 est.
Workstation     210       210       565       2,300
Server           30       115       390         670 

Windows NT Sales, in thousands.

Source IDC.

Of course, NT must compete with Unix, the Mac OS, and Netware as Internet servers, and each of these may enjoy some advantage -- high- end scalability, excellent multimedia development tools, fast file serving, and so forth. The situation is reminiscent of IBM in the 1950s and 1960s. They freely admitted to not giving the most "bang per buck" on hardware performance, but as they said, the hardware was just the tip of the iceberg, and the marketplace agreed.

But, Microsoft will not admit to less bang per buck. While slower than Netware [3], file-serving performance has improved with new versions. For large systems, Microsoft benchmarks show linear scaling of performance increases from 1-4 processors when when running Microsoft SQL-server, and they are defining an NT clustering solution. Performance is more than adequate for personal Internet publishing.

The "buck" part looks pretty good also. NT Workstation is designed for the single user, and is limited to 2 processors. A single copy of NT Workstation costs $319 at my local software store, and NT is pre- installed on increasing numbers of new computers. The Server version supports multiple users, up to 32 processors (try that with your AT bus :-), dial-up access, and host name administration. Microsoft offers both per-seat and per-server licensing plans for NT Server. NT runs on the Intel platform, where machines and development tools are cheap. It also runs on the Power PC, MIPS, and DEC Alpha, but mass use on these platforms will require application software and development tools, and benchmarks show NT on the Pentium Pro holding its own with these RISC machines. A 200 mhz Pentium Pro outperformed a MIPS R4400/200, was about the same as a PowerPC 604/133, and about 20% slower than an Alpha 21064A/275 [2].

I spoke with Enzo Schiano, NT product manager, about its future. The next release, version 4, is expected around the middle of 1996.{footnote 1} The most obvious change will be a switch to the Windows 95 user interface, but the plumbing may be more important. It will integrate the Internet domain name service with Windows name service, which means NT users will be able to see directories across the Internet. Support for distributed OLE (object linking and embedding) will also be included, allowing objects to be anywhere on the network.{footnote 2}

The Internet Information Server (IIS) package will include Web, Gopher, and FTP servers, the Internet Database Connector, which will simplify generation of HTML output from Microsoft SQL server, Fast Find, a text indexing tool, a server administration tool, and Secure Sockets Layer security. IIS will be in the box with NT Server Version 4, and downloadable for those with Version 3.5. Microsoft will also bundle in the Internet Explorer, a Java and Visual Basic compatible Web browser. {footnote 3} As with IBM in the old days, the overall, integrated package might prevail, even if there are some weak links. One is also reminded of IBM's old consent decree -- I wonder what the Justice Department thinks of this bundle of goodies with the NT Server.

Hands On

I installed NT on a 90-mhz Pentium with 32 MB memory, and began experimenting with a few application servers. NT can use either the old DOS/Windows 3 file system or its own NT file system (NTFS). I decided to run both because NTFS is faster, has protection and compression, and is required for some applications, but I wanted to keep my old Windows 3.1 applications stable. I could have partitioned the hard drive, but at around $200 per gigabyte, I could not resist getting a new drive, and decided on a dual-boot system retaining 16- bit Windows on drive C, and NTFS and NT on the new drive, D.

The installation went fairly smoothly {footnote 4}, taking around four hours. That included starting over three times, because, like most folks, I jumped in without reading any manuals. The biggest stumbling block was a CD-ROM driver. The installation process begins with floppy disks, but soon switches to CD-ROM. Unfortunately, the distribution disks did not have drivers for my particular CD-ROM drive. This turned out to be a minor problem since I was able to download a suitable driver from the manufacturer's Internet FTP site in a few minutes, but this is not the sort of detour one appreciates or expects while installing a software package.

With the driver problem fixed, the installation went smoothly. I had gotten an IP address for the machine in advance, so installing TCP/IP for communication over the Internet took little more than a click on a menu item. (For some reason, it decided I had thin Ethernet cable rather than 10 BaseT, but that was easily corrected). The machine is on a Novell network, and those servers were immediately visible. With four hours work and a few scares, I had a pingable Internet server which could access information on Novell servers and print on local printers, and I had done it all without editing a single configuration file.{footnote 5}

But, when I rebooted, the old Windows 3.1 was broken. I could boot into DOS on my original drive, but Windows would not execute. I tried everything I could think of, but in the end had to reinstall Windows 3.1. I have no idea what caused the problem, so I cannot predict whether others will have it. This detour took longer than installing NT.

Though I probably will not need the additional capability, I installed NT server rather than the Workstation. I am the only user so far, so have only set up a few accounts, but it is very easy to create new users and groups of users, set their privileges, password options, and so forth. (Even though I have no users to administer, just seeing the options on those menus gives one a feeling of system administrator omnipotence). Everything is done with screen forms.

NT Web Servers

I initially planned a review of several NT-based Web servers, but decided that would be premature. The servers on the market are evolving too rapidly, and Microsoft has not yet shipped theirs. Instead, I will describe my experience with WebSite {footnote 6}, a package that seems well positioned for the personal, low volume server, and mention performance and other context issues.

Paul Hoffman's [6] current Web Server Chart lists the features of 20 servers for the NT platform, and WebSite has most of the features he tracks. He also reports that it is growing in popularity, and it appears to be the leader among commercially supported NT servers. {footnote 7}

WebSite began as freeware, and this is the second commercial version. Its features include GUI-driven installation which establishes a default directory structure for the server, access control based on either user names and passwords, IP addresses or domain names, a password-protected server administration module that can be run remotely, error and activity logging and analysis, independent homes (directory trees and IP addresses for multiple host names), complete CGI support, and so forth. The Professional version, which will be out soon, adds secure transactions and database integration.

The feature list is respectable, but WebSite's most interesting characteristic is its business model and package. WebSite is published by O'Reilly and Associates, a respected book publisher which also created what was arguably the first important commercial index/magazine on the Web. O'Reilly has established a "virtual" organization to create the WebSite package -- programs from several independent programmers and companies are combined into a single product. This is not to say that they have merely bundled separate programs in one box for marketing purposes. They have managed the project, written unified documentation, and provide central support. The seams between the participating companies are hidden. It is a very 1990s organization, which would make Peter Drucker proud {footnote 8}.

The result is a complete Webmaster package. In addition to the server program, you get a book, tools for server management and text indexing, HTML and clickable-bitmap editors, a Web client, access to Net-based support, and a WebSite T-shirt.

The book teaches Web concepts, server installation and management, CGI programming, text indexing and retrieval, and so forth. There are also many sample programs. This is not just a manual, but an excellent book.

WebView, a graphical web mapping and management tool, was written by Enterprise Integration Technology, and, like the server, it has been available and evolving for several years. WebView automatically builds a tree map of a web of documents, following links on or off your server. Broken links are shown, and a mouse click can expand or contract the tree or display a document using your Web client. One may view and search the web by file name, HTML title field, URL, or the labels associated with HTML anchors.

WebIndex is used to generate a searchable index of all terms used in the documents on your server. While it is straightforward and works well, I only tried it on relatively small document sets, so cannot say how well it scales or how it compares to alternative text engines.

The HTML editor is HotDog. HotDog is easy to use, and handles tables and forms well, but HTML features are a fast moving target, and since it is a 16-bit application, you are restricted to short file names. It received an "A" rating in Carl Davis HTML editor review,

The Web client is Spyglass Mosaic version 2.1. Web clients are also a fast moving target, and while this version works well today, it it not compatible with the scripting languages and extensions being offered by Netscape. The final tool is an editor for creating clickable bitmaps.

WebSite Central,, and the WebSite T-shirt are icing on the cake -- inviting you into the WebSite community. The WebSite Central server has public domain software like a Perl interpreter, and a bulletin board system for help. (The bulletin board is implemented using another forthcoming O'Reilly product, WebBoard). WebSite Central may make the user community somewhat self- supporting, and give O'Reilly and the developers feedback for future versions.

WebSite is a complete package, but what about performance? Web server performance assessment is complex, depending on the server hardware and software, connection speeds, client speed, the timing distribution and types of requests expected, and so forth.

Silicon Graphics (SGI) has developed WebStone, a program that generates requests for a tester-specified distribution of HTML pages from simulated clients and monitors latency, throughput, and error rates [15]. Blakely [1] used WebStone to compare performance of a 100 Mhz Pentium PC with 64 MB of RAM running Netscape's Server 1.1 with SGI's entry-level 133 Mhz WebFORCE Challenger S server. The tests were run on an isolated Ethernet. At high loads the latency and throughput of the SGI machine were about 50% better than the NT machine, and error rates lower. On the other hand, the NT machine was error free up to 34.37 connections/second and had a throughput of 1.83 Mbit/second at that level. While the SGI machine is faster, and better suited to high volume sites, the NT machine is capable of error free service of a T1 line with this test mix, and it would cost less.

PC Week also used WebStone (with a different test mix) to compare WebSite with Spry's SafteyWeb server for NT. Running on a Dell XPS Pro 150 with 64 MB memory, they found that SafteyWeb outperformed WebSite at high loads, but that "WebSite maintains an adequate throughput for T1 up through 32 simultaneous clients" [14]. These results are fine for most personal Web servers, but if you anticipate heavy loads, Unix or a faster NT platform or software may be your cup of tea.

O'Reilly, Spry and others have fine products, but one must consider Microsoft and Netscape. Microsoft hopes to seamlessly integrate Net access into their applications and desktop, while Netscape would like to shift the focus to their browser and its add-ons. Netscape's servers are available for NT, and while they do not bundle as much as WebSite today, they will change rapidly, and attempt to move standards. Price is also an issue, and Netscape is free for universities. Still, the company is small and must be spread thin with their effort to establish standards and work with many partners. Their primary asset may be that they are not Microsoft, and therefore have many allies as a countervailing power.

Microsoft will soon ship their NT Web server. As mentioned above, it will be include SQL database hooks, text indexing, and other features similar to the WebSite package, but it will not run on Workstation NT or Windows 95. According to product manager Doug Hebenthal, it was developed internally, independently of pre-existing public domain software. They use it on their own Web server, which averages nearly three million hits per day using two 66 mhz Pentiums, one with two processors and one with four [8]. They are also running hundreds of copies internally on their corporate intranet. It will be available for the Intel, MIPS, DEC Alpha, and PowerPC NT processors, and will be consistent across platforms.

The availability of a bundled Web server from Microsoft will raise the bar for competitors on the NT platform. Website, Netscape and others will have to innovate to stay ahead. They may move higher ground, supporting application development, multimedia, collaborative work, transaction processing, and so forth. O'Reilly may cut prices and focus on the low-end, personal server market. Lotus has decided to offer the Notes web publishing add-on (originally $2,995) at no cost. They will also include a Web browser in a future client, and should become a major player in the intranet market.

Real Audio Server

An earlier article [13] suggested that speech was becoming a viable Internet data type, and surveyed speech compression, telephony, and streaming speech. I still believe speech is here to stay, and want to be able to deliver compressed speech from my personal server. Real Addio, RA, has taken the lead in streaming speech, so I decided to look at their server software.

The RA server works in conjunction with a Web server. When a user running a Web client clicks on a RA link, the Web server returns a pointer to a list of one or more RA-format files, not the file itself. When the Web client receives this, it launches an RA player, and passes the pointer to it. The player then initiates a streaming session with the RA server software -- leaving the Web client out of the picture.{footnote 9}

Version 2 will add several interesting variations on this theme. My favorite is the ability to create a slide show by synchronizing Web events (URL fetches) with the sound stream. Synchronization is controlled by an event file listing the URLs of your HTML documents and the times at which they are to be retrieved by your Web client. This scheme is very simple, and works, but there are two problems. For one, you must create the event list with a text editor, then convert it to the event file format using a utility program. While inconvenient, this is not as big a problem as the fact that there is no pre-fetching and buffering of material. That means there may be long, variable delays in presentation of the slides or other material. You can specify to the tenth of a second the time something should be retrieved, but it may take many seconds for it to arrive and be displayed. RA server product manager Juha Salin says they are considering a fix to this problem.

Another Version 2 extension provides for real-time compression and serving. This requires two machines, one recording the material and compressing it on the fly, and the other running RA server. They communicate using RA's Live Transfer Agent protocol over an IP link. Real-time broadcasting was first used for the play-by-play of the Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees baseball game on September 5, 1995. That date may be the answer to a trivia question some day, so don't forget it. Several radio stations are now using RA to simulcast their programs on the Net and over the air. To reach large audiences, RA splitter servers is being deployed on the Net.

Version 2 also offers two data rates -- 14.4 or 28.8 kb/s, while version 1 was limited to 14.4. RA claims that the higher speed allows for FM quality speech and music, but my ears tell me something different. (I am working with beta software). For more discussion of the factors affecting speech quality, see [13].

The RA server comes in a personal and professional versions. The personal version will cost only $99. It is limited to two simultaneous sessions, but that is plenty for many personal servers. It will also lack the live broadcast feature. The Professional server costs $1,495 for 10 streams, $4,995 for 40, and $9,995 for 100, plus an annual fee for upgrades and support. RA claims that a T1 line can support 100 sessions using under 30% of a 90 Mhz Pentium's CPU cycles.

One can envision many personal or workgroup RA applications -- family albums, product announcements, education, and so forth. I plan to experiment with it as a vehicle for on-demand replay of classroom lectures.

Windows NT is here to stay, and looks like an excellent personal server platform. The price is right, the community is humming, there are plenty of development tools, and all the vendors provide easy setup and administration using graphical interfaces. NT may not outperform high-end Unix machines connected to T3 lines, but for us T1 and lower folks, it is sufficient. Some day we may all have broadband connections, and need more horsepower, but by then, I expect NT will be running on my wrist watch.


1. I am now using a beta copy, which is quite stable, though missing some promised features.

2. Collecting objects from around the Internet seems impractical for most users today, but it may not be in a high-bandwidth future. Microsoft is working on a new file system and directory service which they hope will provide seamless access to objects on the Internet along with a document-oriented user interface. In their futuristic demo-videos, users simply open documents which mix text, graphs, simulation models, and so forth without regard to where they reside.

While OLE has market momentum, it should be noted that many people regard the OpenDoc standard championed by Apple, IBM, and Novell as superior. For example, in awarding OpenDoc the Infoworld 1995 Landmark Technology Award, Nicholas Petreley [10] states "OpenDoc has become easily the more flexible, powerful, extensible, and forward looking object model when compared with its closest business competitor, Microsoft's OLE." For a detailed discussion of this issue, see [9]. Again, we are reminded of IBM in the good old days.

3. Microsoft will also upgrade Visual Basic around mid year, enabling developers to create OLE controls for distribution on the Net in competition with Java. They have licensed Java, but will also compete with it.

4. Note that I have never been a system administrator. In the distant past, I worked on a project to write an operating system, but I have never administered one -- I am just a user.

5. Of course there are configuration files underlying all this. They are gathered in the "Registry" and a Registry Editing tool is provided for browsing and altering its contents.

6. I should disclose that I know Bob Denny, the author of WebSite.

7. Hoffman polls a random sample of 2,000 of the roughly 45,000 sites indexed on the Yahoo server, to see what server they use [7]. His most recent survey found 73 (4%) WebSite installations out of the 1,792 which responded. One cannot be sure WebSite is most popular for NT, because Hoffman combines Netscape's NT and Unix servers.

8. Drucker, an influential management theoriest and historian, writes of the emergence of information-based organizations, in which managers control and coordinate the activities of relatively autonomous, skilled professionals [4]. He uses hospitals, universities, and symphony orchestras as early examples.

9. The player offers controls similar to a tape recorder. Since it does not offer the option of saving the file it receives, you can listen to the material, but not obtain a copy. This is a limitation from the users point of view, but for a provider it is offers protection for intellectual property. They are considering the addition of file-save capability in a future release.


1. Blakeley, Michael, "WebStone Performance Analysis: Windows NT 3.5," p100.html.

2. Chiquoine, Selinda and Rowell, Dave, "Pentium Pro Makes NT Fly," Byte, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp 155-162, February, 1996.

3. Deutsch, H. Waverly, Oltsik, Jon, and Colony, George F., "Netware or NT?," Computing Strategy Service, Vol. 13, No. 2, Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, November 7, 1995.

4. Drucker, Peter, "The Coming of the New Organization," Harvard Business Review, pp 45-53, January-February, 1988.

5. Erickson, Thomas, "The World-Wide Web as Social Hypertext," CACM, January, 1996, Bol. 39, No. 1, pp 15-17.

6. Hoffman, Paul, "Web Servers Comparison,", January, 1996.

7. Hoffman, Paul, "Web Servers Survey,", January, 1996.

8. Intel Corporation, "Intel Case Study: Microsoft,"

9. Orfali, Robert, Harkey, Dan, and Edwards, Jeri, "The Essential Distributed Objects Survival Guide," John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1996.

10. Petreley, Nicholas, "The Best of 1995: OpenDoc," Infoworld, January 29, 1996, page 66.

11. Press, L., "Thoughts and Observations at the Microsoft CD-ROM Conference," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 32, No. 7, pp 784-788, July, 1989.

12. Press, L., "Systems for Finding People," Journal of Organizational Computing, 2(3&4), 303-314 (1992).

13. Press, L., "Speech.Net, Internet-based Speech," Communications of the ACM, Vol 38, No 10, pp 25-31, October, 1995.

14. Rapoza, Jim and Sullivan, Eamonn, "Web Server Stakes Change Little, Comparative Review," PC Week, January 29, 1996, pp 63-68,

15. Trent, Gene and Sake, Mark, "WebSTONE: The First Generation in HTTP Server Benchmarking,"


Proper Publishing,, maintains a feature comparison chart for all web servers they know of,, and they also conduct a survey to determine which software people are using, The chart has links to the home pages for the authors and publishers of all of the servers, so this is an excellent place to begin looking for server software.

You can learn the latest details on the products and companies we have mentioned at:

   Enterprise Integration Technology:
   Real Audio:
Microsoft Press,, publishes books, software and training material to supplement NT. The training material focuses on the large system adminstrator, but contains much that is valuable for individual, and the "Resource Kits," contain useful utilies and other software. They draw upon the experience of Microsoft's education and development teams.

Windows Watcher is a monthly industry newsletter that tracks Microsoft and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the Windows industry. There is a lot of NT coverage. They analyze product plans and strategy -- looking around two years into the future. There is good balance between technical and business material, leaning toward the latter. Editorial Director Jesse Berst is a PC Week columnist. (206) 881- 7254,

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