OS/2 Merlin, NT 4.0 resource dilemma

Sometimes when you publish an opinion, it can come back to haunt you years later.

In 1993 I was one of a few vocal critics that derided Microsoft Corp. for creating an operating system (OS) - Windows NT 3.1 - that required a minimum of 12M of memory, recommended 16M to 24M of memory and required at least of 75M of disk space. You may recall that during this time most desktop PCs shipped with either 4M or 8M of memory and 300M to 540M hard drives, so it was fairly easy for me to characterize Windows NT as a "resource hog."

At the time, OS/2 required only 4M of memory (8M recommended) and 20M to 40M of disk space. Now, three years later, IBM will introduce the next generation of OS/2 - called Merlin - at about the same time Microsoft releases the next version of Windows NT (4.0).

Which OS is now less resource-intensive, and why?

Merlin has some unique features, most notably speaker-independent voice recognition, that will set it apart from any other 32-bit OS.

Windows NT 4.0 will sport the Windows 95 Graphical User Interface (GUI) and enhanced device driver support. But such features don't come without a price: Each OS will ship with an increased appetite for CPU, disk space and memory. The questions then are "How much?" and "Why?"

OS/2 Merlin will ship with hardware requirements similar to the current version of OS/2 Warp Connect (486 DX 2/66 or higher CPU, 8M memory required, 12M to 16M recommended and 75M to 90M of disk space).

Merlin begins to consume large amounts of hardware when you decide to install the VoiceType speech recognition engine and speech-enabled applications. That application requires at least a 75 MHz Pentium processor, memory increases (up to to 32M) and a whopping 300M of disk space.

OS/2 Merlin takes such a bite out of the hardware because it takes advantage of the floating point unit (FPU) processor on the Pentium series CPU to make it available on the widest range of hardware - and for a price similar to OS/2 Warp Connect.

Windows NT 4.0's appetite has also increased; it now requires 16M of memory, with 24M to 32M recommended, a Pentium 75 or higher CPU and about 120M of disk space. NT 4.0's added appetite buys you the new Windows 95 GUI, a Windows NT-version of the MS Internet Explorer Web browser, the MS Exchange mail client, Direct Draw and Direct Sound APIs for running enhanced multimedia software and User Profiles.

But NT 4.0 will not feature any dynamic Plug and Play capability or object-orientation, nor will it have the widespread device driver support that Windows 95 enjoys. Thus, while Merlin may require up to two and a half times as much disk space, the added features are far greater than what Windows NT 4.0 promises.

Government offices that are replacing aging PCs with newer Pentium-based systems will have no trouble meeting either requirement because new PCs now ship with Pentium 100 MHz CPUs, 16M of memory and 1G hard drives.

Agencies that have a bulk of 486-based systems will not have a choice of which 32-bit they will run because OS/2 Merlin, sans speech, will be the only fully 32-bit OS fully capable of running on that hardware.

(Windows 95 is excluded from the comparison because it still contains legacy 16-bit Windows 3.1 code and thus does not qualify as a full 32-bit operating system.)


Rodgers is a computer specialist with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. You can reach him at os2guru@erols.com and read this column on Gateway at http://www.fcw.com.


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