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back to article Windows NT: Remember Microsoft's almost perfect 20-year-old?

If you want to be reminded that you're getting old, ask a youngster what Windows NT is. Chances are, there'll be blank looks all round. Windows What? Is it, like, a codename for a new version? You can't blame them. There hasn't actually been a proper "Windows NT" release since the late 1990s, so for almost anyone under 30 it's …

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Ah, good old NT

I installed it at home essentially because it had a clear separation between administrator and regular users. This prevented the missus from removing clutter from the root directory (like command.com, config.sys, or autoexec.bat) as she had done under Windows 3.1 (seriously, she did ! (and she was upset at the fact that I was angry, obviously)).

I did take one look at Win 95 but didn't like it, so decided to go for NT instead. Worked quite solidly (although I would tend to boot to SUSE (6.X I think) at the time.

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Happy

Re: Ah, good old NT

So, there is a good use for 'hidden' files.

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Facepalm

Re: Ah, good old NT

I mean, the line "Insert system disk and press any key" is really tidy though!

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@Michael

Amen to that; where server and client basically used the same engine. I recall that with adding one bmp file (the server logo) and changing a single registry key you'd immediately get your client to act and fully behave like a server. Including all configuration options which were server specific (not that there were as many as today, but even so...).

Of course the server version was a lot more expensive. It's a server afterall..

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LDS
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Re: Ah, good old NT

I installed NT4 soon after I started my developer career. I was working on a 95 machine and a nasty bug in an application was killing the OS while debugging - I had to reboot every time. I asked advice to a senior developer - who was running NT4 - and saw on his machine he could simply kill the hung process without rebooting! I asked to have NT4 on my PC as well (although it wasn't easy to convince the sysadmin it was better than 95 to develop!), bought it for my home PC as well, I run OS/2 earlier, but its lack of applications forced me to switch to 95 until I discovered NT, and never looked back to the 9x line.

Just I wish MS had implmented *default* security better - at the cost of disappointing some users and developers - NT would have avoided a lot of security issues that plagued it.

Graphics driver were never an issue for me - if you bought graphics card from reliable suppliers that took care of the drivers properly BSODs didn't appear. But there were then too many PCs assembled by many small local companies too often using cheap hardware and drivers.

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Anonymous Coward

CTRL Alt Delete was how you used to reboot the computer in the old days before Windows NT.

So when I first saw NT4 at University it really felt odd to be pressing that key combination to logon to a computer.

Of course they got rid of that login method later on thankfully.

The NT4 machines I first used demonstrated how bad driver development was back then, there was frequent graphic artefacts.

I always remember thinking that the move from the 9x code base to the NT code base would fix all of these viruses and malware issues that plagued 98 and ME. It probably did for about a year or so.

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Re: "they got rid of that login method later on"

Really ? When ? In Win8 ?

Because I'm using W7 right now and I have to use the famous trio every single time my workstation goes into screensaver lock.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "they got rid of that login method later on"

Nope, I'm using Win 8 and it still needs ctrl+alt+del, if you want to logon to a domain.

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Headmaster

Re: "they got rid of that login method later on"

Kids of today eh, what do they teach you?

<Ctrl><Alt><Del> was used because that was the hard stop command, the idea being it would cause a virus / keylogger to stop before a user loged in.

Obviously it didn't work, but it was a nice idea

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Re: "they got rid of that login method later on"

They didn't get rid of it afaik, in that there's a registry key that can be set to force c/a/d logon or coming out of "lock computer". Either tweakui power tools, or somewhere in the system management menus, provides an option for this. I always use it on machines here as it's a usefull security feature, since it forces logon at the local console only...

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Re: "they got rid of that login method later on"

Ctrl-Alt-Del is the Secure Attention Sequence. It is impossible for a user-land application to intercept the sequence. On receipt, MS-Windows will switch to a second desktop, and display the login dialog box.

This is to stop a user-app from creating a spoof login box, or intercepting the WindowsMessages to the real one, and grabbing the user's UID/password.

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Re: "they got rid of that login method later on"

The fake login prompt was the first thing we did on Unix machines when we learned to put the terminal into no-echo mode

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CAD

The CtrlAltDel is still there for all of us who have had to login on a domain-attached Windows computer. I know it was still there in Win7. As others have mentioned, it is a security feature to avoid keyloggers and fake login screens as C/A/D can't be intercepted. Kinda like kill -9 in that sense.

Disabling that feature is a no-no for obvious reasons.

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Re: "they got rid of that login method later on"

To get the vulcan nerve pinch login requirement back, do a search for 'run', in order to get the run dialog box, then enter 'netplwiz'. On the new window go to the "Advanced" tab you will find, near the bottom, the check box that will make users provide the three finger salute prior to logging in. It works in 7 and Blew Blue but in XP I believe you have to go to the Local Security Policy setting in the Admin Tools of the Control Panel.

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Windows

I remember when I were a lad....

Back in the day I started my IT career on Windows 3.1, NT3.51 and Novell Netware 3.11...

To be fair its not the reminiscing over old OS's that make me feel old - its the 18-19 year olds flatly refusing to believe we used to have offices that:

a) did not have computers at all

b) when the first workstations came out nobody had internet access

c) email was restricted to a single company address and I had to turn on the 28.8kbps modem for 30 minutes a day to download anything that might have been sent us.

d) there was no spam

Ahhhh happy days....

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Trollface

Re: "there was no spam"

On the PC, no, but on the fax machine . . .

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KPz

Re: "there was no spam"

The yoof of today would just say "What's a fax machine?"

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Re: "there was no spam"

I had the sobering thought the other day that I have more storage capacity on my keyring (and separately in both my phone and tablet) today than there was in the whole college where I did my Comp-Sci A-Level.

Advancement in just over a couple of decades. But then I'm a middle-aged dinosaur who can remember the world prior to the Internet...

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Trollface

Re: "there was no spam"

"On the PC, no, but on the fax machine . . ."

We avoided that in my first shop by using only Telex...

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Re: "there was no spam"

Considering a Raspberry Pi steamrollers the DEC KL10 used at my former uni, that's not hard to believe.

Shame that OS innovation hasn't kept up with the hardware.

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Re: "there was no spam"

And on the Telex in days gone before that.

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Thumb Up

Showstopper

Showstopper is a great book detailing how NT was built led David Cutler:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Showstopper-ebook/dp/B003XRET4K/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1376992472&sr=1-1&keywords=showstopper

Well worth a read

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N2
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Re: Showstopper

Ah good old David Cutler, the man who punch through the plasterboard and opened the office door from the inside to demonstrate what the MS execs were trying to do, shame they diddnt take much notice in some of the recent versions of windows.

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Ah NT4.0. I ran it for years after its official end of life and it never went wrong. Never.

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Anonymous Coward

Up until three years ago I was working at a "very large" UK bank, they still had some NT4, although MS were actually supporting it though.

Lots of it ran on the most modern hardware that had NT4 drivers, which were basically ageing Proliants, until VMware came along. One of the Windows support guys did comment to me that "it's amazing how fast NT4 is on Vmware, with modern hardware below it."

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Actually...

XP is frisky enough to run a passable game of Quake 3 under VirtualBox and Arch Linux, and a Turion RM74 based laptop with 4Gb ram. I've been wondering, actually, just how many concurrent telnet users I could support, given that an 1980s era IBM mainframe running VM/CMS could support something like 400 IBM 3270 sessions.

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N2
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Agreed

But Microsoft don't want you doing that do they?

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MrT
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I remember...

...reading one review (Computer Shopper IIRC) where the review PC had 96MB of RAM and thinking that the reviewer must be minted to afford all that.

Also just noticed the banner ad across the page for this article - "Buying a stairlift?"...

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Big Brother

@Mr T >Re: I remember...

Moments earlier, I saw an advertisement for pre-paid funerals on Amazon.

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IT Angle

Made me smile

Arrive at work,

Turn on PC,

Grab two coffees form the vending machine,

http://regmedia.co.uk/2013/08/20/windowsnt_login.png ,

Start Visual C++,

work until hungry or time to go home.

One man and his computer; simpler times.

Happy days.

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Childcatcher

Re: Made me smile

I got to test our equipment when NT 4 was Microsoft's big product. In fact, I migrated the company off a single Netware server onto NT departmental servers. I got my hands on a SSD (much more expensive and rare then than now) as a demo and set it up in a test box which I used for my workstation until they tore it from my clutches. That thing would fly. I bought several to support the video department who used them for editing, but had no luck getting one for myself for use in a support role.

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Re: Made me smile

This is the time when keystrokes went up and productivity went down. The old random system/program crashes always left you wondering what caused it - it almost forced you to have a quick look back at what you thought you'd done while the kettle was boiling again and the system re-booting.

It might have been annoying but in reality it really was bloody useful.

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Anonymous Coward

Notable that even 20 years ago, it had a better security and audit model than many other OSs that exist to day, as well as a fully modular and secure hybrid microkernel architecture - significantly more securable than legacy monolithic designs....Also it introduced a scalable database to replace legacy flat files for storing configuration data....

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Windows

Oh look, it's mister monolithic whine.

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Trollface

Beats modern Windowses, in a way

Now I'm trolling a bit, but NT can be secured quite well without breaking it, in stark contrast with the later stuff.

IE, RPC, NetBIOS and most of the other attack vectors can be either removed or bound to localhost.

Heck, why stop at that (once trolling) - it was the last decent Win32. After that, franchise was ruined via feature-creep.

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Okay Bill, we know it's you.

And as for the "scalable database", the inventor of that abomination should take Sysiph's place on the rock. But, in its defence, I will admit that a single point of failure has never been more completely integrated than the Registry has.

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before the registry

I thought the registry was the descendant of Common Data Dictionary, used on DEC VAX systems. In particular, it was used by DEC's Datatrieve (aka Databungle) which could report from basic files, indexed files, or DEC database products.

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Anonymous Coward

You do realise that the registry is a fully journalled and ACLd database which exists in more than one location on a disk?

No, thought not.

Now, if you want to see a really good SPOF, look at the Linux conf files, hundreds of potential SPOFs, which just require a file to corrupt, or a bit of ham fisted editing or a disk corruption to knacker. They're not duplicated in any way and aren't journalled, excepting that they may be on a journalling filesystem, which isn't really the same. You certainly can make the access to individual settings tied to an ACL. I recently lost a linux box because disk addresses changed and it could no-longer mount up the images that it expected to be there. I've also lost linux boxes for various conf file related balls ups.

There is no API to backup the conf files and there is no standard in how they're written, is it a conf file, is it a cnf file, is it a file in a subdirectory called conf, etc. etc. The really silly thing is that there was a Linux Registry project, but it got hounded out of existence by people who saw the R word and reacted accordingly.

Even AIX has MkSysB, which is basically a registry backup/recovery system.

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Coat

They stuffed things quite a bit when they incorporated the video drivers into the kernel - I was like, OMG! WTF! and sundry other neologisms.

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You don't have "multiple single points of failure" on Linux. You do have a fragile ecosystem of configuration files, but few if any of them can cause the boot to fail, because they configure individual applications. (Perhaps somebody can think of one that if corrupted can stop you even getting a GRUB prompt? I can't.)

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Bronze badge

I'm afraid I have to downvote you. SPOF, which resides in a database, and has multiple copies, is still a SPOF. And it sure fails a lot, for silly reasons, with all copies corrupted and system un-bootable. If there was a proper way to repair b0rked registry, it would be a lesser issue.

AIX ODM is better in one regard - it is possible to edit it via boot-CD. But still an abomination.

As for mksysb - no, it's not a registry tool, it makes a bootable OS backup, so allows a bare-metal recovery.

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Linux

WTF.

Let's say that I have never experienced those corruption problems you describe, and that I can imagine lots ways to avoid them if really that's what you want.

Also let's say that most of those files are trivial to recreate, even when we're talking about disk layouts and the like (mdadm, lvm etc.) but if you can not/do not want to waste time I'm sure you are backing up your files, are you?

Files are not delicate flowers my friend, quite the contrary, but if you're a bit clumsy, here let me make it easy for you:

mkdir /var/etc_backup

rsync -avi --progress /etc/ /var/etc_backup/

There you go, it is free and you can make as many as you want, you can even use your imagination and add the date to the directory name, use incremental backups etc. Use those two lines each time you unluckiest person in the universe login into a linux box.

I always marvel at people who claim that anything with the complexity of the registry is what one needs to properly store the configuration of a computer.

Seriously this comes from a hardcore Windows guy for 10 years, who was yesterday migrating the home server from a single hard disk to a raid setup, not only did I migrated all the data manually not losing or corrupting a single file, I borked the init-ramfs completely and I could fix it all by hand using the vi version that comes with busybox.

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Facepalm

Windows NT not designed for the Internet ..

"Notable that even 20 years ago, it had a better security and audit model than many other OSs that exist to day"

Not according to Wikipedia ..

'Windows NT and its successors are designed for security (including on a network) and multi-user PCs, but were not initially designed with Internet security in mind as much, since, when it was first developed in the early 1990s, Internet use was less prevalent`

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Linux

Should have used UUID ..

"I recently lost a linux box because disk addresses changed and it could no-longer mount up the images that it expected to be there."

'How To Use UUID To Mount Partitions / Volumes Under Ubuntu Linux`

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah, but what about all the stuff that's not in the place it's supposed to be? There are a lot of badly behaved application available for linux which spaff config files all over the place.

I always marvel at people who think that text files rather than a database is a good place to store configuration information.

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FAIL

Re: Windows NT not designed for the Internet ..

Now now people, lets just agree that a suitably clueless luser can screw up pretty much any system, no matter what OS it's running.

And lets all admit that we've all buggered up an OS by doing something stupid.

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LDS
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There is a proper way to repair a damaged registry. What do you believe restore points are for? Also you can backup it on an external support. A registry file can anyway be edited off-line with the proper tools.

Saying "it fails a lot" it's just a weasel arguments - it's years I can't see a registry corruption on all my department machines - probably because we don't play much with bad written software and/or "unknown" origin.

The registry was a good idea because it gave developers a common API and a common structure to save application settings in a clear way, instead of inventing every time a proprietary format and writing a parser for it. Also the registry can hold binary data that cannot be easily written to a text file.

But often untrained developer abuse it for data that have no reason to be stored there. Oh well, you see how many still try to write conf files in the application directory, which has been forbidden for years, but stubbornly some developers don't want to change their Win 3.0 habits.

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Re: Should have used UUID ..

He should have. Windows should too. After buying and SSD and inserting it in my computer (yay, finally some use for the SATA 3 ports!) Windows' own backup utility would refuse to back up to the drive where it had backed up the system more than a year. The drive was fine of course. Had to dust off an older copy of a disk imaging software because no amount of googling managed to revive Windows Backup.

Oh but you want some NT 4.0 memories yes? Ok. We met when I was in highschool (I also found out about Linux there so it wasn't all bad) and I was studying CS. We used Borland Tools for Pascal and C++ for learning how to program and used to ping of death random workstations for giggles with programs we did not create ourselves, ofc. Our teacher was a lousy sysadmin. Oh yeah, since the "workstations" did not have more than 16MB (yes kids, megabytes) of RAM, NT would like to grind the HDD like crazy.

We were also using one of those bus type networks built with coaxial cable. This has nothing to do with NT, but I wonder how many people still remember those .

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Windows NT not designed for the Internet ..

" lets just agree that a suitably clueless luser can screw up pretty much any system, no matter what OS it's running."

I don't agree.

It is (and has been for a long time) in general very difficult for an unprivileged (non-admin) user on a properly managed VMS system to screw anything much up.

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@LDS

Most ways to access registry are usable only when kernel is up. If it fails to start, for example due to 7F checkstop, then this fancy database is just a binary blob. Sure, there are ways to get to it, and a lucrative job it is too, but it just should not have been designed like that.

OK, if you haven't been there, then I shall not vent too much about it.

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