Oracle Lords Over Windows Servers

One of Microsoft's big pushes is to have its management tools control Linux and Unix boxes, letting these rivals remain in mixed shops but operate under the thumb of Active Directory, MOM, SMS and what not. Two key third parties, Quest (which bought Vintela) and Centeris (backed by an impressive group of Microsoft execs-turned-venture capitalists), are helping to realize this Microsoft master plan.

Now Oracle is turning the tables, pitching its Grid Control system as a way of managing Windows servers. For major Oracle users, the news is probably well worth checking out.

Have You Gotten Your Vista Yet?
Last week Microsoft talked about a new feature-complete test version of Vista for the enterprise, and less than 24 hours later started shipping the code (wish they could do that with commercial releases). The company also laid out a schedule for more test releases, including one for consumers, culminating in the actual release of the product.

Our man in Seattle, reporter Stuart Johnston, warns that enterprises should look particularly hard at the new default security settings and how these may affect user access to key applications.

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Have You Gotten Your Longhorn Yet?
Longhorn may be further away from release than Vista, but that isn't stopping more test versions from coming out. The latest Longhorn test version is up on MSDN and TechNet. You might want to clear some disk space in preparation for a major beta release in the second half of this year.

Both the Vista and Longhorn test releases are called Community Technology Previews, rather than the simpler, more commonly understood word "beta" -- a change that still galls me to no end. If you want to hear more about the logic behind this nomenclature, check out reader Hal's letter below.

Betas vs. CTPs
As you all know, I have issues with Microsoft's terminology regarding betas and its Community Technology Previews, which to me sound just like betas. So what's the difference? Here's one reader who might have an answer:

"There really is a difference between betas and CTPs, although that difference may be subtle outside Microsoft. And it may even be a little different between teams at Microsoft. I’ll describe the difference as I understand it from the standpoint of the SQL Server team.

Traditionally, betas are huge milestones with very specific criteria in terms of both content and (particularly) quality. No, they aren’t release-quality, but they still have a pretty high bar on quality and what tests need to be running successfully before releasing them to customers. The earliest beta is usually for a very limited audience, the second beta is for a broader audience, and the third beta (if there is one) is a 'marketing beta' and made available pretty much to anyone who asks. One of the key criteria with betas is that they are always a step forward in every dimension, so in addition to new functionality, the quality is uniformly better across all aspects of the product.

With the growth of these products from a dozen developers to tens of developers to hundreds of developers (or thousands, in the case of Windows), and the related growth in the number of different subsystems that make up these products, putting out a beta has gotten more and more difficult. The time to stabilize each subsystem, perform integration testing, and get the product to appropriate quality got to be ridiculous. A decade ago you would target a maximum of three months between betas. Today you’re lucky if you can get a truly new beta out in six months. SQL Server 2005 went a year between beta 1 and beta 2. These long gaps between betas aren’t good for testing both because functionality that is ready for testing has to sit around a long time for the next 'bus' to leave, and because customers grow tired of waiting stop testing. So you need to find alternatives.

The SQL Server group has, since 1996, had another type of release called an IDW. Windows also has IDWs (and actually invented the acronym, whose meaning isn’t really applicable any more). The IDW is an internal stabilization point that is declared useful for some particular purpose. Initially that purpose was to allow teams with dependencies to have a stable platform to do their development. For example, while we rewrote the Engine in SQL Server 7.0 the Replication team was frustrated by the engine developers breaking them every day. So, they would only work against an IDW rather than the live build. Over time this was extended to providing builds to external teams (e.g., Commerce Server) for them to work against. Then IDWs were used to provide some customer test partners (e.g., early adopters) with interim builds both before and then during beta. So for the last nine years, some customers have been getting interim builds and not just the official beta builds. The big difference with an IDW is that the quality bar for them is lower than a beta. Even more specifically, you could have an IDW where one subsystem (e.g., the Engine) is good but another (e.g., Analysis Services) is not working, and provide that IDW to early adopters who needed the latest Engine but weren’t using Analysis Services.

After the SQL Server 2005 beta 1 to beta 2 gap the SQL Server team decided to alter its processes and regularly schedule IDWs to be released publicly as part of the beta program. These became the CTPs. The reason for calling them CTP, rather than some kind of beta update, appears to have been threefold: One reason was to provide a differentiation from the level of polish that a beta was supposed to have; a second reason was to differentiate something that went only to formal beta testers from something that was available to anyone who wanted it; and finally to leave room for true future beta releases. The original plan seemed to be to issue CTPs for a while and then do one more beta, allowing for major functional additions and the traditional Big Bang quality push. But the CTP process appears to have taught them a few things and they changed the plan. CTPs forced the development team to keep the product more stable at all times rather than going through a 'do development then re-stabilize' cycle. They realized that there really was no value in doing another beta and that instead they could just stretch the time between a couple of CTPs for extra internal stabilization. In doing so they may have permanently altered the beta cycle.

So now I think we are in a world where you enter Beta and then do frequent updates. Each update is much smaller in scope then a traditional beta 2, 3, etc. would be. The term CTP is indeed a little odd, especially since in some cases (as with Vista) they are being targeted to specific customer segments rather than the community at large. But the name is less interesting than the concept behind it. Testers of SQL Server 2005 seem to have been overjoyed by the switch to CTPs." -- Hal

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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