Cairo was a code word for the next generation of Windows NT, a single upgrade of the operating system that each year was due about one year later. Microsoft has been talking about Cairo for so long that it's taken on almost mythical status, a kind of Windows promised land. "We thought we'd make a big bang with Cairo and we'd solve all the world's needs," said Enzo Schiano, a Windows NT product manager, referring to the original Cairo plan.
With customers demanding the latest features as soon as possible, Cairo gradually evolved into a term for a set of technologies that would be rolled out over the course of months or years in separate NT upgrades. But with the release of Windows NT 5.0 in the second half of 1997, "NT 5.0 will essentially deliver the remaining Cairo components," Schiano said. Developers will get their first look at the promised land next week.
Here's a rundown of what is expected to be seen at the conference:
-- A long-awaited preview version of a directory service for Windows NT 5.0. The directory service allows administrators to set up network privileges for users, such as defining which applications they can access. The current service only supports a limited number of users on a LAN (local area network). The new service will extend that to multiple LANs, and will include Kerberos security features, support for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, and, in the final version, will also support X.500 directory services to link NT networks to Unix and legacy systems.
-- A new management tool for Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS), code-named Slate, will also make a second appearance after its debut at Networld+Interop in September. Slate is an ActiveX-enabled tool that provides a central console for a number of different applications to manipulate systems management data sent via Simple Network Management Protocol or new Web-based APIs (application programming interfaces). Through the console, an administrator will also be able to set up a user for the variety of Microsoft BackOffice applications, such as the SQL Server and Exchange.
-- A generally available beta set of APIs, code-named Wolfpack, may also show up at the conference. The APIs provide Windows NT clustering extensions for linking multiple NT-based servers together to multiply performance. The API set and accompanying products are due in the first quarter of next year; industry observers have said the API kit is nearly complete. --A beta version of Internet Explorer 4.0 may also debut at this conference, if it hasn't already materialized at a separate Microsoft conference for Web developers next week in San Jose, California.
The directory service may not actually be available until the second half of 1997 when NT 5.0 rolls out, although Slate will probably be offered before then. But the point is that Microsoft officials want to assure developers about the direction that NT is taking, especially as more and more corporations are starting to rely on NT. Windows NT 5.0 will ostensibly complete the operating system's transition into a mature network operating system.
Edwin Rutsch, president of the Bay Area Windows NT User Group says that the operating system is making "small, progressive improvements." First, Microsoft added a Windows 95-like user interface and then a Web interface. Version 5.0's enhanced administration and management capabilities along with a new directory service will almost complete that transition, said Rutsch, but that won't be the end of the list of new features that many corporate users would like to see. Rutsch, for example, wants Microsoft to include native Network File System capabilities so that users won't have to continue using emulation software.