The year 1998 is one Microsoft Corp. probably wants to forget.

No one was a bigger loser in ’98 than Microsoft. The only close competitor was America Online Inc., with its US$4.2 billion offer to essentially buy Netscape Communication Corp.’s portal site. (Hey, AOL’s Steve Case! I can sell you a whole bridge for a lot less.)

In November, Windows NT took a beating both as an application platform and a network server in analyses released by D.H. Brown & Associates Inc. and the Giga Information Group Inc.

D.H. Brown, in its annual review of application server platforms, ranked NT behind IBM Corp.’s AIX (which came in first), Compaq Computer Corp.’s Digital Unix, Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Solaris, Silicon Graphics Inc.’s Irix and Hewlett-Packard Co.’s HP-UX. NT finished last in each category of the study except support for PC clients (where it was second to Digital Unix). Categories included scalability, reliability, availability, serviceability and system management.

On the network server front, Giga Information Systems found that upgrading from NetWare 4.0 to NT 4.0 would cost two to three times as much as upgrading to NetWare 5.0.

Among the issues raised were performance, reliability and administrative cost. Field interviews showed that in a large enterprise, an all-NT network would need up to twice as many servers as NetWare. And NT’s inability to make full use of high-speed bandwidth would mean increasing the number of subnets and backbones throughout the network.

Giga also found you’ll need more administrators, pay higher salaries (because of the lower number of Microsoft Certified Software Engineers available) and spend more for training with NT than with NetWare.

Bill Gates and Microsoft have never had a year like 1998. Setbacks in court in Sun’s Java lawsuit coupled with the ridicule Gates has drawn for his taped testimony in the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust case battered Microsoft on the legal front.

Directory partner Cisco Systems Inc.’s endorsement (if a tepid one) of Novell Inc.’s Novell Directory Services (NDS) coupled with the ringing endorsement of NDS by Lucent Technologies Inc. and Nortel Networks hit the Redmondites on another front. Then two different analyst groups turned thumbs down on Windows NT Server.

First their enemies beat them. Then their friends turned on them. Finally, the neutral observers dissed them. Don’t you feel sorry for Bill?