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Microsoft Corp has once again bowed to fierce pressure from the Internet community, that anarchic crowd that makes it so difficult to slip anything by it. This time the issue is a plan artificially to limit the functionality of Windows NT Workstation 4.0. The plan was to set a limit of 10 unique IP connections over a 10-minute period on Workstation 4.0, effectively eliminating it as a feasible option for Internet or intranet Web servers. No such limit appears in the current release 3.51 of Workstation, and it fills the role perfectly well. Microsoft’s argument was that, for performance and resource reasons, NT Server, which comes bundled with a free version of Internet Information Server, should be used for Web server applications. NT Server costs $1,000 against just $290 for NT Workstation. Microsoft even told users that NT Server was required to run Internet Information Server, but in practice, it was found that a simple registry entry change was all that was needed to make Workstation an effective and cheaper alternative for Web serving. So the limit on 4.0 was seen as a deliberate attempt by Microsoft to force users to upgrade to NT Server. Competitors such as O’Reilly & Associates Inc and Netscape Communications Corp were up in arms, fearful that they’d be squeezed out of a market they’d helped to create. An open letter from O’Reilly & Associates president Tim O’Reilly pointed out that if you want to run any Web server – O’Reilly’s, Microsoft’s or others – on NT, you’ll have to buy NT Server. The higher price-tag, he said, would choke use of the Web for desktop Web publishing and groupware information sharing, and it exposed, he said, the fallacy that Internet Information Server was in fact free. It was also a violation of the open systems nature of the Web, said O’Reilly. Usenet correspondents said they’d stick to Workstation 3.51 rather than upgrade. The limit appeared in the second beta of Workstation 4.0, which shipped to developers last week. But yesterday Microsoft issued a statement saying it had decided to remove the limitation, which, it said, had also affected customers developing distributed peer-to-peer applications. The statement reiterated Microsoft’s belief that NT Server was best for production Web servers, and promised a compelling upgrade to make it easier for users to move from 3.51 Workstation to NT Server 4.0.

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