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