Definitions

Windows NT 7.0

Windows NT 4.0

Windows NT 4.0 is a preemptive, graphical and business-oriented operating system designed to work with either uniprocessor or symmetric multi-processor computers. It is the fourth release of Microsoft's Windows NT line of operating systems and was released to manufacturing on 29 July 1996. It is a 32-bit Windows system available in both workstation and server editions with a graphical environment similar to that of Windows 95. The "NT" designation in the product's title initially stood for "New Technology" according to Microsoft's then-CEO Bill Gates, but now no longer has any specific meaning. Windows NT 4.0 was succeeded by Windows 2000 in February 2000. Windows NT 4.0 is classified as a hybrid kernel operating system.

Overview

While providing much greater stability than Windows 95, it was also less flexible from a desktop perspective. Much of the stability is gained by the use of protected memory and the hardware abstraction layer. Direct hardware access was disallowed and “misbehaving” applications were terminated without needing the computer to be restarted. The trade-off was that NT required an excessive amount of memory in comparison to consumer targeted products such as Windows 95.

While nearly all programs written for Windows 95 will run on Windows NT, the majority of 3D games will not, due in part to NT 4.0 having limited support for DirectX. Third party device drivers were in fact allowed to access the hardware directly and poorly written drivers were a frequent source of “stop errors”. Such failures became to be referred to as the “blue screen of death" or BSOD and would require the system to be restarted in such cases. These errors were rare and it was not uncommon for NT servers or workstations to run for months at a time without failure. By comparison Windows consumer versions at the time were much less stable and popularized the belief that all Windows versions were unreliable.

Windows NT 4.0 is also less user-friendly than Windows 95 when it comes to certain maintenance and management tasks; there is, for instance, no support for “Plug-and-play” which greatly simplifies installation of hardware devices or support for USB devices. Many basic DOS applications would run however graphical DOS applications would not run due to the way they accessed graphics hardware.

The dichotomy between the NT and "9x" lines of Windows ended with the arrival of Windows XP, by which time the gaming APIs—such as OpenGL and DirectX—had matured sufficiently to be more efficient to write for than common PC hardware and the hardware itself had become powerful enough to handle the API processing overhead acceptably.

Windows NT 4.0 was the last major release of NT to support the Alpha, MIPS or PowerPC CPU architectures. Windows NT 4.0 was rendered obsolete with the advent of Windows 2000 but is still (as of 2005) in widespread use despite Microsoft's many efforts to persuade customers to upgrade to more recent versions. It was also the last release in the Windows NT line to use the "Windows NT" name. NT 4.0 is the last Windows NT Server OS to use the now discontinued BackOffice feature.

Features

The most noticeable difference from Windows NT 3.51 is that Windows NT 4.0 has the user interface of Windows 95, including the Windows Shell, Windows Explorer (known as Windows NT Explorer), and the use of "My" nomenclature (e.g. My Computer). It also includes most applications introduced with Windows 95.

The server editions of Windows NT 4.0 include a built-in web server, Internet Information Services version 2.0. It also natively supported plugins and extensions of Microsoft FrontPage, a web site creation and management application.

Other important features included with this release were Microsoft Transaction Server for network applications, and Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ), which improved communication.

One significant difference from previous versions of Windows NT is that the Graphics Device Interface (GDI) is incorporated into the kernel to speed up the graphical user interface (GUI), resulting in a significant performance improvement over Windows NT 3.51 and also creating the requirement to have graphics drivers located in the kernel, resulting in potential stability issues.

Windows NT 4.0 also included a new Windows Task Manager application. Previous versions versions of Windows NT includes the Task List application, but it only shows applications currently in memory. To monitor how much CPU and memory resources are being used, users were forced to use Performance Monitor. The task manager offers a more convenient way of getting a snapshot of all the applications running on the system at any given time.

Unlike Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0 does not support Direct3D and USB. Windows 2000 introduced native USB and Direct3D support to Windows NT. Third party utilities also exist that provide DirectX support in Windows NT 4.0.

A distinctive feature of Windows NT 4.0 is its round analog clock, dropped from all subsequent versions of Windows until Windows Vista, where it reappeared ten years later -- though as a Sidebar gadget and not as a standalone application. The analog clock applet (included in all previous Windows versions, except for Windows 95) could only display the clock in a square window. However, those previous versions didn't have the taskbar with digital clock in it, and thus inclusion of both taskbar clock and standalone clock applet was considered redundant.

Microsoft offered up to Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1 for NT 4.0, provided it was updated to handle it.

Editions

Windows NT 4.0 Server was included in versions 4.0 and 4.5 of BackOffice Small Business Server suite.

Servers

  • Windows NT 4.0 Server, released in 1996, was designed for small-scale business server systems.
  • Windows NT 4.0 Server, Enterprise Edition, released in 1997, is the precursor to the Enterprise line of the Windows server family. Enterprise Server was designed for high-demand, high-traffic networks.
  • Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server, released in 1998, allows the users to log on remotely. The same functionality was called Terminal Services in Windows 2000, and Remote Desktop in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Client

  • Windows NT 4.0 Workstation was designed for use as the general business desktop operating system.

Embedded

Windows NT 4.0 Embedded (abbreviated NTe) is a special edition of Windows NT 4.0 that was aimed at computer-powered appliances, vending machines, ATMs and other devices that cannot be considered computers per se. It is the same system as the standard Windows NT 4.0, but it comes packaged in a database of components and dependencies, from which a developer can choose individual components to build customized setup CDs and hard disk boot images. It was succeeded by Windows XP Embedded.

Service Packs

Software Date
Release To Manufacture (RTM) 29 July 1996
General release 24 August 1996
Service Pack 1 16 October 1996
Service Pack 2 14 December 1996
Service Pack 3 15 May 1997
Service Pack 4 25 October 1998
Service Pack 5 4 May 1999
Service Pack 6 22 November 1999
Service Pack 6a 30 November 1999
Post Service Pack 6a Security Rollup 26 July 2001
Microsoft released Windows NT 4.0 service packs primarily to fix bugs. Windows NT 4.0, during the product's lifecycle, had several service packs, as well as numerous service rollup packages and option packs. The last full service pack was Service Pack 6a (SP6a).

A SP7 was planned at one stage in early 2001, but this became the Post SP6a Security Rollup and not a full Service Pack, released 16 months after Windows 2000 and nearly three months prior to Windows XP.

The service packs and an option pack were also released to add features. These included newer versions of Internet Information Services, versions 3.0, and 4.0, support for Active Server Pages, public-key and certificate authority functionality, smart card support, improved symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) scalability, clustering capabilities, and component object model (COM) support, among others.

Security

On 31 December 2004, Microsoft stopped providing security updates for Windows NT 4.0, due to major security flaws including MS03-010, which according to Microsoft could not be patched without significant changes to the core operating system. According to the security bulletin, "Due to [the] fundamental differences between Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 and its successors, it is infeasible to rebuild the software for Windows NT 4.0 to eliminate the vulnerability. To do so would require rearchitecting a very significant amount of the Windows NT 4.0 operating system, and [...] there would be no assurance that applications designed to run on Windows NT 4.0 would continue to operate on the patched system."

Between June 2003 and June 2007, 127 security flaws were identified and patched in Windows 2000 Server, many of which may also affect Windows NT 4.0; however, Microsoft doesn't test security bulletins against unsupported software. Because of this, Microsoft is recommending current Windows NT customers to upgrade to a supported operating system such as Windows Server 2003, or Windows Server 2008.

Legacy

Windows NT 4.0 was a revolutionary product at its release and was eventually deployed in many large businesses. The stability offered greatly reduced support costs over Windows 95 or Windows 98. It was later supplanted by Windows 2000 which was based on NT and largely bridged the gap between NT and consumer Windows versions. Windows XP, Windows Vista and subsequent server versions were later released which completed the unification of the core architecture of all Windows versions which evolved directly from Windows NT.

References

External links

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