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Active Directory Support Extended to NT 4 Client

Microsoft this month expanded the legacy support of some of its Active Directory features to Windows NT 4.0 Workstation.

The Active Directory Client Extensions for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation became available via Web download last week.

Similar extensions for Windows 95 and Windows 98 clients already ship on the Windows 2000 CD.

By creating client extensions for the Active Directory, Microsoft encourages enterprises that want to roll out Windows 2000 Server and the Active Directory before doing a full desktop deployment of Windows 2000 Professional.

The bulk of customers seem to be going the other way, rolling out Windows 2000 Professional first and installing Windows 2000 Server and the Active Directory later.

It is not clear why Microsoft was able to add Active Directory functionality to Windows 95/98 clients more quickly than to Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, which is architecturally far more similar to Windows 2000 Professional.

The delay may have stemmed from Redmond’s expectations that Windows NT Workstation users would be more likely to upgrade to Windows 2000. The $149 price listed for a Windows NT upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional is cheaper than the $219 upgrade from Windows 95/98.

“What it does tell you is that Microsoft is realizing they’ve got a problem on their hands: old client systems that aren’t necessarily going to be swept away en masse,” says Al Gillen, a system software analyst with IDC.

The Active Directory extensions bring several Windows 2000 Professional features to Windows 9.x/NT clients.

The clients can locate the nearest domain controller for logon, support Active Directory scripting, access fault-tolerant distributed file system shares and edit object properties.

The extensions also improve security somewhat, adding support for NTLM version 2, which brings 128-bit password-derived keys and better session security than the previous version of NT LAN Manager.

Even with the extensions, the clients can’t support several important features of the Active Directory that work with Windows 2000 Professional. Those include Kerberos, Group Policy, Intellimirror, IPSec and L2TP.

IDC’s Gillen predicts it’s unlikely Microsoft will do much more to enhance the downlevel client experience of Active Directory.

“This is probably the limit of what is practical for them to do,” Gillen says. “Trying to put more support for Active Directory capabilities into these products would require pretty much a rearchitecting of the product.”

The Active Directory Client Extensions for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation is a 1.5 MB download. It can be found here. --

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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