Microsoft returns some LAN features to Windows ME

Just as quietly as Microsoft Corp. eliminated network features from its forthcoming Windows ME, it has now returned a few to the operating system.

In March, Microsoft confirmed it had stripped from Windows Millennium Edition (ME) the software needed to connect the operating system to NetWare or Banyan (now called ePresence) file servers. Microsoft also said that ME would not have a client for Active Directory.

Enterprise users who were committed to the Windows 95/98 upgrade path were shocked to find out they would lose the ability to integrate the new operating system with their heterogeneous networks. They were also upset that some telecommuters and mobile workers would not be able to access corporate networks and felt the ME network omissions were merely a forced march to Windows 2000.

Last month, Microsoft partially relented, returning the NetWare client to the feature list of ME, but leaving the ePresence software out because of little or no customer demand. The company also reiterated that ME is a consumer-oriented operating system.

But Microsoft did not address whether an Active Directory client will be supplied with the software. Without that client, users will not be able to connect to the directory in Windows 2000.

“Microsoft is still vague on [Active Directory support],” said Neil MacDonald, an analyst with the Gartner Group, which first brought the ME issue to light. “There will be an Active Directory client for 9.x and indeed it may run on ME, however, what we are looking for from Microsoft is explicit commitment that they will support this configuration. Customers should continue to pressure Microsoft for this final confirmation.”

Microsoft has already announced an Active Directory client for Windows 95 and 98.

Critics originally called the removal of the LAN software shortsighted because ME still provided Microsoft the potential to generate revenue from corporate customers. Critics also said the moves were forcing users to a more expensive upgrade with Windows 2000.

For enterprise customers, the elimination of the LAN clients from ME essentially recreated issues they’ve faced when contemplating a move from Windows 9.x to NT Workstation, most notably higher cost for migration and licensing, as well as application and hardware compatibility.

But MacDonald believes that bad press and customer complaints forced Microsoft to reconsider.