UK Microsoft Windows 95 Strategy


Microsoft Windows 95 goes on sale August 24, 1995. In anticipation of this event Information Systems has dedicated significant resources to answering the question: "What impact will this have on the computing environment at the University of Kentucky?" Because Windows 95 is an operating system for Intel-based personal computers that represent about 70% of the desktop machines on campus, we expect a significant impact. Windows 95 will not affect Apple Macintosh and PowerMac computer users since these are not Intel platforms. The "Houdini" card that allows the PowerMac to run most current DOS and Windows software, will not be a supported Windows 95 configuration.

The operating system controls many aspects of a computer. Older operating systems, designed for character-based computers, employ simpler technology to interface with the user. Windows 95 makes significant improvements to the Graphical User Interface (GUI) introduced by the earlier versions of MS Windows. It replaces MSDOS and Windows with a single integrated system designed to overcome many of the limitations imposed by the older technology. At the University of Kentucky, we pushed against these limits when integrating Intel-based PC's into our campus network, by integrating graphical support into our applications, and by moving to a client/server database model that makes information easier to access. Thus, Windows 95 represents a great opportunity for us to move forward because it expands the boundaries within which we can pursue these goals.

Over the last few years the University has greatly expanded its ability to take advantage of desktop computing. This progress came as the result of a significant investment of human and fiscal resources. As we migrate to Windows 95, we must be careful not to lose ground. Every major piece of software has imperfections, more commonly known as "bugs." Working through these bugs with the vendors and software authors is tedious, hard work. This work must be done in order to maintain a robust computing environment. An environment in which students, faculty and staff can leverage their creativity rather than waste precious time in non-productive troubleshooting tasks. Presently, we are aware of several incompatibilities between Windows 95 and the previous versions of Windows that could impede our Administrative and Educational work-flow if we choose to implement the first release immediately. In addition, several products seem to work but are not certified or supported by the products' vendors under Windows 95. We have been in contact with the vendors of the affected products and they have all promised fixes or support within the first 90 days of Microsoft's release date. While we cannot necessarily depend on these promises, we anticipate that market pressures will force most vendors whose products don't run properly to fix them in that time period. We anticipate that some of these fixes will be in the form of software upgrades which will have a significant cost associated with them. For these reasons, Information Systems will not centrally support Windows 95 until approximately 90 days after the official release date; or, until all of the strategic software vendors begin supporting the new operating system and have fixed the most serious problems. In turn, we urge you not to install Windows 95 in "production" University environments until it is centrally supported. The paragraphs below detail some of the benefits we anticipate and problems we are working to resolve. They are necessarily somewhat technical. You can use them to help you decide how you will approach Windows 95 installations in your area, or on your personal computer.

On-Campus Networking

Windows 95 has strong networking capabilities which make it easy to install, maintain and use network software. When the University switches to Windows 95, we will phase out our support for ODI drivers, which have been our campus standard for DOS and Windows machines for about 3 years. This will provide better integration between Microsoft and Novell networking and pave the road for messaging systems based on Microsoft Exchange if we decide to implement them. Although the first release of Windows 95 will include support for Netware versions 3.11 and 3.12 as well as Netware 4.x running "bindery emulation," the support for Netware Directory Services (NDS) is not yet included. Since migrating the Novell servers on campus to Netware 4.x with NDS is one of the initiatives we have instituted in order to take advantage of the "Super Servers" we have purchased, we need support for NDS. We understand that within 60 to 90 days after the introduction of Windows 95 we can expect these network drivers to be available. The absence of this software should make you cautious about moving to Windows 95 if you are presently using a Netware 4.x server or if you plan to use one within the next few months. SUPER_ONE users should specially note this fact since, there are plans to activate NDS soon on that machine. Also, if you are an administrator of a Novell file server running Netware 4.x you won't want to switch to Windows 95 until a version of "NWADMIN," the windows-based Netware administration utility for NDS is available for Windows 95. The present version of NWADMIN is dependent on 16-bit ODI technology, which, although it can be installed under Windows 95, is not the preferred 32-bit configuration that we will support as a campus standard.

In addition to the problems associated with the actual network client software, some network applications don't work correctly. There are known problems with cc:Mail which some users may encounter. The commercial Eudora client that we support on campus is usable, but a small problem exists with the icon not indicating when you have mail. Also, special modifications must be made to Meeting Maker, a popular calendar program, after installation in order to run. MS Word version 2.0, one of the most popular word processing packages on campus will not function properly under Windows 95 necessitating a software upgrade. McGill TCP3270, our standard application for accessing the IBM mainframe works, but it cannot use the "library" fonts under Windows 95. Photoshop version 2.5 is known not to work. Norton's utilities and many antivirus programs currently in use around campus will need to be upgraded in order to work. The old versions may corrupt files under Windows 95. Most types of backup software designed for Windows or DOS will need to be upgraded because of the "long filename" support of Windows 95. We have some concern that Windows 95 files with long filenames backed up from Novell servers may experience some problems during a restore. Technicians are working to confirm this and find a fix. In order to support Windows 95 long filenames on Novell servers the OS/2 namespace must be loaded on your file server; while this seems trivial, it has implications for file backup and recovery. TCP/IP is the protocol used by your computer to access the internet and logon to the IBM Mainframe as well as the UNIX machines on campus. Windows 95 includes built-in support for TCP/IP. Thus, we can replace Novell's LAN Workplace TCP/IP software as our standard. TCP/IP is only a protocol. Applications are needed to use this protocol. Except for "telnet and ftp" Windows 95 does not include any TCP/IP applications. LAN Workplace version 4.2 applications, which have been our standard for some time now, will not work under Windows 95. On the other hand, we recently obtained a site license for LAN Workplace version 5.0. Many of the LAN Workplace version 5.0 applications have been rewritten to use the standard WINSOCK interface defined by Microsoft. These "WINSOCK-based" applications will work with Windows 95. Consequently, our strategy will be to continue to support the UKPG installed version of LAN Workplace 4.2 on Windows 3.11 machines, but roll out the working LAN Workplace 5.0 applications or working alternatives with Windows 95. In addition, development is in progress on a deployment vehicle for the University community made up entirely of freeware TCP/IP applications and those for which we have site licenses. This "Sitepak" simplifies the installation and configuration of these applications.

Windows 95's implementation of TCP/IP lacks support for the protocol called "bootp" that automatically assigns internet addresses (also called IP numbers). Since this is the campus standard protocol for this purpose we must modify our approach. Technicians are currently testing a different protocol (DHCP) to supplement bootp. We hope that by the time this letter reaches you the software that provides this service will be functional and somewhat tested. But, time is needed to ensure the robustness of this new protocol on the network. Again, one should anticipate problems in the first few months as the Information Systems technical crew "irons out the bugs."

Remote Access

Our present remote access strategy for Windows machines is based on LAN Workplace and the UKPG installer. Windows 95 offers a significant improvement both in ease of installation and reliability over the third-party software from Novell. By using the "Point to Point Protocol" (PPP) Windows 95 is able to access campus TCP/IP servers and also support other protocols. This opens up the possibility of making remote access more "campus-like" than it is presently. Primarily our intention is to provide remote access to campus computing resources. However, if you need full internet access from a remote site, we have formed a partnership with MCI to provide that kind of access at a reasonable cost. When you contract with MCI for this service you will receive software for remote connection. It is important that you realize that the TCP/IP software from MCI is not compatible with Windows 95 and is unnecessary. Before upgrading to Windows 95 you will need to uninstall the MCI software (also known as UK Online). But, like LAN Workplace, the "PPP" support included with the Windows 95 TCP/IP is fully compatible with the MCI terminal service. This means that once again there is a simplification for you, the user. Configure Windows 95 and you'll be ready to use MCI or the campus remote access modems without having to maintain a third-party TCP/IP package on your computer, except for applications. As a bonus, testing of remote Novell connectivity is underway and we anticipate that by the time we begin supporting Windows 95 we can offer this service through our campus terminal servers and modem pool.

Information Systems Help Desk Support

Windows 95 contains a feature-rich environment with on-line help and tutorials. In addition, many books are being published about how to install, configure, manage and use Windows 95. Microsoft even includes 90 days of free telephone support (it's still a toll-call and does not include support for networking) with your purchase of Windows 95. But, the University environment presents complex and unique difficulties for those without first- hand knowledge of the equipment and the network. The Help Desk is preparing to deal with these unique problems and support calls specific to the University's implementation of Windows 95. The help desk employs a tiered structure. First level support consists of answering basic questions and gathering information about a problem. Technical questions or difficult problems are referred to a second tier within the computing center's Technical Support group. The Technical Support group has access to resources both within and without the University on which they can draw if the problem is outside the scope or breadth of their knowledge. Since the number of support personnel is very limited, it is important that the first tier be able to answer many of the user questions. This requires training and experience. Although this training has started, it may take as much as 90 days after the introduction of Windows 95 before Help Desk personnel have sufficient experience to make a meaningful contribution to campus-wide support for Windows 95. Microsoft has had the benefit of feedback from their beta program in training their support personnel. The University must rely on a similar program to garner experience from "beta" installations in the campus environment before we anoint Windows 95 as a "production" system.

User Training

The Information Technology and Training Center (ITTC) offers classes to University employees in an effort to shorten the lag in productivity that accompanies the introduction of any new technology. ITTC maintains two computer equipped classrooms for teaching about the software used by administrative personnel on campus. These classroom resources are much in demand, and we anticipate a rush when we start supporting Windows 95 as users try to take advantage of this service. The classroom computers cannot immediately be converted to Windows 95 because classes must still be taught in the environment most familiar to the administrative user audience and not all application versions run correctly under Windows 95. Thus, the shift to Windows 95 represents a commitment, since one cannot quickly restore the "old" windows environment on a desktop computer. Although the center has already started course design for teaching about Windows 95, it will take some time after the introduction to justify the shift in classroom resources so that a class can be taught. Some users may want to delay their move to Windows 95 even longer than 90 days after the "first sale" date until training is available. ITTC needs to teach the basics, but remember that much of the basic information regarding Windows 95 is included in the on-line tutorial. The demand from users will be for the specialized techniques that make the real difference in productivity. The goal is that each trained user represents one less support call at the Help Desk from that user, and ten fewer support calls from that user's coworkers. Encouraging new Windows 95 users to take these ITTC classes will facilitate managing the load on our Help Desk; but, in order for users to take the classes, the classes must first be developed and the classroom computing resources must be available.

Software Distribution

Windows 95 is a relatively large operating system compared to DOS and Windows 3.11. It occupies about 13 to 14 specially formatted (DMF) diskettes in its compressed form. The time it takes to load Windows 95 from diskette is significant; especially on slower computers. Disturbingly, on some computers it takes several hours. The campus recommended hardware for using Windows 95 is an 80486 processor or above running at 33 MHz or above with a 500 Megabyte Hard disk, 12-16 Megabytes of RAM, and connected to a network. The minimum system for using one application at a time would be one with a 80386 processor running at 40 MHz with 8 Megabytes of RAM and 200 Meg Hard disk. The minimum machine would be similar to one you might use at home, i.e., not connected to the campus ethernet. It should be noted that these recommendations are significantly greater than the hardware specifications given by Microsoft. The discrepancy is explained by the fact that most people will want to run applications, not just the operating system on their computer. We acknowledge that, as per Microsoft's advertising, Windows 95 can be installed on a computer with only 4 Megabytes of RAM; however, in our environment, we cannot support this configuration. It is just too slow for the user to be productive.

The fastest way to install Windows 95 is from a file server on the network or from a double-speed CD-ROM. It takes about 22 minutes for an average installation from a file server to a recommended configuration machine. Installing from a file server also allows the University to somewhat standardize the starting configuration of the computers attached to the network. We are concerned about reports found in the forums that discuss Netware and Windows 95 regarding Service Advertising Protocol (SAP) packets and Routing Information Protocol (RIP) packets which reportedly to flood the network if certain features within Windows 95 are enabled. By controlling software distribution to campus machines we can help minimize the impact on the network of these misconfigured machines. Once again, this will take time to implement, and reinforces the dangers of rushing into the installation of numerous Windows 95 workstations by "techno novices."

Another issue associated with software distribution, support and maintenance is "Microsoft Plus!" This is a collection of wallpaper, screensavers, SLIP scripting software (automates remote access), Internet Browser, an Internet mail add-on to MS Exchange, Double-space version 3.0, task automation software, a cool pinball game, and a dial-up server somewhat similar to a terminal server. Purchase and distribution of this software will radically alter the disk space requirements of Windows 95. While personal benefits of "MS Plus!" can be determined from its features, we need time to assess the benefits to the University before advocating the purchase or support of this software.

Interaction with Client/Server Database Strategy

For two years Information Systems has worked to implement a "virtually integrated technical architecture lifecycle" at the University. The project's acronym, VITAL, suggests the quality of the role it will play in giving direction to the University's information infrastructure. The project seeks to unlock the information resources of the University and make them available to the end-user by integrating the desktop computers (clients) with large databases and data repositories kept on central machines called "servers." Crucial to this effort has been the stability of the software on the client systems. This has proven very difficult to control because traditionally there have been no standards for the installation of software on these systems, nor standards for the kind of hardware found on these systems. In the course of the VITAL project, great strides have been made towards establishing these hardware and software standards. UKPG, an installation program was written to standardize network software installation as a direct result of the need for stable TCP/IP software imposed by VITAL. Next, we standardized on an SQL database, Sybase SQLServer. A client development tool, OMNIS7 was next adopted. Then, finally, an ad hoc query tool, Data Prism was adopted.

The move to Windows 95 affects the software running on the Windows clients. In order for an application to talk to Sybase from an Intel PC there must be a program called Open Client that provides an interface between the application and the TCP/IP software. To date, Open Client has not been certified for use with the Microsoft TCP/IP included with Windows 95. We anticipate that this will take place within 90 days of the official Windows 95 release. In addition, OMNIS 7, which allows programmers to build interactive applications to access the data stored on the server does not run properly under Windows 95. We are presently in negotiations with Blyth software to obtain a Windows 95 version of the software as soon as it is available. This is critical to some business officers and other employees who are already using applications based on OMNIS 7 to access financial data on the servers. Although Data Prism seems to work under Windows 95, it has not been certified by the vendor.


Although mainframes were said to reside in "glass houses," their complexity was hidden from most users behind a dumb terminal. Now, each of us is the manager of a "desktop glass-house." There is an interdependence among the "smart" elements of our networked computing environment, which has spawned a complexity at the desktop challenging that seen in the largest of corporate mainframe computer rooms. Only through embracing software advances like Windows 95 can we manage the growing complexity and take advantage of the growing power at our fingertips.

Windows 95 offers great promise both in terms of productivity gains and lower support costs. It provides more robust networking capabilities. It provides a simplified user interface and a simpler installation procedure. However, the University cannot migrate to Windows 95 without first solving the critical issues regarding its installation and use. These critical issues are: How it will interact with campus networking? How it will affect Remote Access to computing? How will we provide technical support? How will we deal with user-training needs? How will we distribute the software so as to maintain standards? Finally, how will we keep from disrupting the progress we have made in our client/server database strategy as part of the VITAL project?

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