AS/400 IT Not Banking on Windows 98
Despite the overabundance of attention Windows 98 has received, the new desktop operating system is not likely to make a significant impact on enterprise-level users. Whether memories of a painful trip up the road to Windows 95 still linger, or a variety of other priorities beckon limited resources, the midrange market is content to watch Windows 98 from the sidelines.
This is not to say the more than 1 million IBM AS/400 Client Access users are unable to implement Windows 98 if they choose. AS/400 shops can use Windows 98 with the most recent version of Client Access for Windows 95/NT, according to Darryl Johns, e-business specialist with IBM. Johns is quick to point out, however, that use of Windows 98 in business environments "should not be an issue," since Microsoft has targeted the product primarily at the home market. "[Microsoft] wants businesses to commit more to NT, especially 5.0 when it's available," he says.
Though IBM plans to introduce a refresh of Client Access during the fourth quarter of this year that will better address Windows 98, Client Access for Windows 95/NT V3R1M3 - available since February of this year - fully supports Windows 98, according to an IBM spokesman. AS/400 users should be sure they are using Module 3, he adds.
IBM recently posted information to its AS/400 Web site -- www.as400.ibm.com/clientaccess -- that midrange shops should be aware of before making any changes to their desktops. Windows 98 supports Client Access for Windows 95/NT V3R1M3, as long as the user has service pack SF48155 or later. For users meeting these Windows 98 requirements, IBM will accept service calls under the standard service support. Support will not be provided for V3R1M2 or earlier versions of Client Access for Windows 95/NT in a Windows 98 environment.
As with most new desktop technology, Windows 98 has its share of reported kinks, according to IBM. In particular, Client Access SNA Twinax connections cannot be made with IBM PCMCIA Twinax cards. This includes both the IBM 5250 Emulation PCMCIA Adapter (part number 92G5359), and the 5250 Express PC Card (part number 88H0260).
Another problem with Windows 98 in the Twinax environment is Client Access TCP/IP connections cannot be made with the 5250 Emulation PCMCIA Adapter (part number 92G5359). The Express card does, however, work for TCP/IP.
Client Access for the AS/400 enables PC workstation clients to connect to AS/400 server applications, or act like a green-screen terminal on the AS/400. Client Access for Windows 95/NT allows users to connect a PC to an AS/400 server over a LAN, a Twinaxial connection or a remote link. It has a complete set of integrated functions designed to enable desktop users to access AS/400 resources as conveniently as their local PC.
Two problems have also been reported concerning NS Router. First, when running data transfer over the NS Router NetWare for SAA link type on Windows 98, it hangs, according to IBM. The Novell server operating system is IntraNetWare 4.11 with service packs, SAA version 2.20.10. Second, on Windows 98, an NS Router link type of Async in direct mode will either not connect with Client Access or will connect without providing the ability to run Client Access functions over the connection.
"Circumvention" also appears to be a problem with Windows 98, whereas larger frames received in this environment are returned as "garbage," IBM reports. Setting the Receive FIFO buffer too low or unchecking the "User FIFO buffers" box resolves this problem. FIFO buffer settings can be found under the "Advanced Port Settings" option. To access the settings: select the "Link Profile" table on the Properties page for the link; click on the "Port Settings" button next to the "Direct Cable on:" prompt; select the "Advanced" button; and modify the "FIFO buffers" information by unchecking the "Use FIFO buffers" checkbox or leaving the "Use FIFO buffers" checked and setting the "Receive Buffer" to Low.
Even with these fixes, Johns has yet to conceive of a strong business case for Windows 98. "Putting in a change like this on the client end is difficult to manage," he says, adding that most companies are - or should be - more concerned with how they will solve their Year 2000 compliance issues.
To its credit, Windows 98 does support 32- and 64-bit applications, something NT 4.0 does not, according to Johns. In fact, with Windows NT 5.0 expected to support 32-bit applications only, some users may have trouble running their 16-bit applications along the NT migration path.
Windows 98 relies heavily on the Internet. Not only is the entire operating system designed with a "Web-like interface," there is an Internet Connection Wizard designed to enable users to receive Internet content without tying up phone lines. Windows 98 also provides a suite of Internet communications tools, including Outlook Express, Microsoft NetMeeting, Personal Web Server and the NetShow server.
Internet grab bag aside, Windows 98 is also designed to be more efficient than Windows 95, launching programs 36 percent faster and offering an average of 28 percent more hard-disk space through the FAT32 file storage system. Other Windows 98 features address multitasking, system maintenance, Windows updates and built-in support for peripherals.
One AS/400 user echoes Johns' sentiments about prioritizing projects. Warren Thompson, senior programmer analyst with Apex Specialty Materials Inc. (New Castle, Del.), says his company has no plans to invest the money or effort in Windows 98. Of the 150 or so PC users throughout the company, about half access Apex's AS/400 e-Series Model 600. This single box - currently running V4R1 - serves the company's six plant locations, each of which has a PC server that will likely be migrated to Windows NT over the next year.
There are other areas of Apex's IT environment that the company is more concerned with, particularly the implementation of Domino and Year 2000 compliance, according to Thompson, who adds that, if Windows 98 was a free upgrade to the desktop, perhaps Apex would consider the migration.
Upgrading an entire network of desktops is perhaps the most daunting aspect of a Windows 98 migration. "That adds up to a lot of manpower," Thompson says, and too many "bad memories" still remain from the Windows 95 upgrade of a few years ago.