Caught Doing Right

Severalyears ago, during a brief flirtation with technical management, I learned ahandy lesson: Instead of looking exclusively for mistakes people make, weshould temper our criticism with a little praise now and then. In new-ageparlance, the phrase is, "Try to catch people doing things right."

Havingdevoted a fair amount of space in recent articles to finding fault with ourbuddies at Microsoft, particularly with System Management Server, I'd like totake this opportunity to recognize two things Microsoft has done recently toimprove the lives of those who manage networked Windows NT computer systems.

First, I'dlike to go on record as saying SMS version 2, Service Pack 2, seems to work.After some recent practical experience with SP2, I can report that many of theserious problems I found in the pre-SP2 release appear to have been corrected.I'm using weasel-words like "seems" and "appear" because,as we all know, its difficult to prove conclusively that any software works,particularly software as complex and involved as SMS. Just the same, in theinfrastructure that I manage, SMS secondary sites that never functionedproperly are now behaving themselves, and SMS v2, SP2, is now supplying me withconsistent and accurate system status and inventory information. Chalk one upfor the folks in Redmond.

Second,after recently downloading and using version 5.5 of Microsoft's InternetExplorer Administrator's Kit, I can happily report that it took me only an houror so to build a reliably deployable version of Internet Explorer 5.5! Just afew months ago, with IEAK 5.0, the same job took almost a week, and theresulting IE 5.0 deployment kit often failed when deployed through SMS. So,score another triumph over customer frustration for Microsoft!

What can wecustomers draw from these Microsoft successes?

Thesevictories should reassure us, for one thing, that a properly focused Microsoftdevelopment team can, indeed, produce reliable and manageable software, and notjust whiz-bang, zoomy GUI bells and whistles. Anyone who needs further proof ofthis should compare the reliability of Windows 2000, which barely needed itsrecently released SP1, with Windows NT 4.0, which didn't operate properly in anetwork until its SP2 was released many months later.

We can drawhope, as well, that Microsoft is finally realizing that reliability is acornerstone, and not a capstone, of software engineering. It's best built intothe foundation of software products, rather than rolled out later as a seriesof bug-fixes.

Futureexperience, perhaps with an SMS version 3 or an Internet Explorer version 6,should bear out these hopes. If not, oh well. We can all go back to waiting forService Packs. --Al Cini is a seniorconsultant with Computer Methods Corp. (Marlton, N.J.) specializing in systemsand network integration. Contact him at