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Coming to Terms with NT
Back when I mainly wrote programs, magazine columns, and technical books for a living, Windows NT looked like the most hopeful development for PCs since the integrated circuit. Even in the earliest alpha test versions, Windows NT was so much more stable and powerful than DOS and so much easier to install than OS/2 that it made software development a joy. Of course, in those days, I used Windows NT in its Workstation incarnation, and gave little thought to Windows NT Advanced Server. Now that I am involved in building networks, setting up file and application servers, and helping to support hundreds of naive end-users on a daily basis, I am much more conscious of the unwieldy aspects of Windows NT.
Frankly, Windows NT is a royal pain to administer. Each installation of a server must be followed up by the application of the latest service pack, a host of hot-fixes, and scrupulous adherence to a checklist of tweaks that close various security loopholes. It's quite routine for service packs to break applications, and vice versa, which lends a certain flavor of mystery and suspense to the process. The system registry is a can of worms, support for multiple domains is hardware-expensive and labor-intensive, and the behavior of the security system in a complex environment is often difficult to predict. Add the various components of BackOffice to the picture -- particularly Microsoft Exchange with its own hierarchy of organizations, sites, servers, connectors, directories, and service packs -- and you've got a real witch's brew.
Windows NT wouldn't be quite as difficult to cope with if it came with a proper set of manuals. Unfortunately, as Microsoft's stranglehold on the software industry has increased, its commitment to comprehensive, accurate documentation -- which never went too deep to begin with -- has gone down the tubes along with most of Microsoft's rivals. When Microsoft does bother to throw together any non-trivial documentation, it is packaged as separate "Resource Kits" so that the public can be bled for a few more dollars to prop up the Microsoft Press profit center. The Developer Network and TechNet CD-ROMs are other Microsoft ploys to squeeze additional revenue out of hapless customers for bug fixes and information that ought to be delivered with the base system.
Mother Nature and book publishers scorn an unpopulated ecological niche, and there are plenty of third-party Windows NT books out there to try and fill the needs created by Microsoft's software defects and slovenly manuals. But too many of the authors follow Microsoft's lead, rehashing the same material in much the same order, and, more importantly, omitting or glossing over the same problem areas. This is, I strongly suspect, because most of these authors are NT mavens on the lecture circuit, hit-and-run NT consultants, or born-again OS/2 promoters, and they do not have the foundation of years of practical, real-world experience to understand what is really needed.
O'Reilly and Aeleen Frisch to the rescue! Essential Windows NT System Administrationbreaks the mold and closes the information gap for NT administrators. Ms. Frisch has been responsible for a variety of VMS, UNIX, and Windows NT systems for some 15 years, and she clearly has an unusually thorough understanding of what it takes in the way of skills, knowledge, and resources to keep a industrial-strength network of servers and clients running smoothly over a long period of time. How fortunate for us all that she appears to have a generous allotment of writing and organizational talent as well.
By the time I had finished the first chapter, it was evident to me that Frisch approached Windows NT from a completely different perspective than most NT book authors. Instead of browsing Microsoft's sorry excuses for documentation and trying to figure out how she could cover the same ground using different words, she drew up a list of things she had to know and tasks she had to accomplish based on her VMS and UNIX background, and then set out to find their Windows NT counterparts. A startlingly adult strategy!
The result is an eminently practical book that is light-years beyond its competitors in usability and credibility. The security chapter, which organizes its discussion from the standpoint of what is needed rather than what Windows NT most easily does, is an outstanding example of the strength of Frisch's approach. Throughout the book, Ms. Frisch's methods are eclectic and ecumenical. Her goal is to get the job done quickly and reliably, and she will use whatever tool works best, whether it be graphically-based, command-line, custom script, or third-party utility.
Among biologists, there is discussion of an evolutionary theory called punctuated equilibrium. Epochs of apparent stability are interrupted by episodes of rapid change, with the emergence of new species and capabilities over a relatively short period. Perhaps the technical book market is similar. During an apparently stagnant interval, a certain critical mass of information and techniques accumulates, and then the right author and publisher come together at the right place and time to hatch a book that is unlike any of its predecessors. Essential Windows NT System Administration is such a book.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books