My Macintosh was a friendly little toy computer that I used for years for everything from writing a book about North America to Common Lisp programming to PhotoShop. Despite the 1950s style operating system, I was a reasonably happy camper until I connected my Mac to the Internet and watched various network applications shoot each other in the knees.
When I watched most of the interesting user apps being introduced for Win31 only, I decided that it was time to become a Microsoft Achiever.
I spent two weeks trying to figure out why the user interface was crashing, reinstalling NT several times. Eventually I decided it was my incompetence and unworthiness of my personal hero Bill Gates so I enlisted the help of a profession NT administrator. He tried eight different combinations of file systems and still couldn't make it work. We had 50 of these genuine Intel boxes and they all behaved consistently so it wasn't a hardware problem. So we sent one back for diagnosis...
The first thing I installed was the eXalt X server from Intergraph. This is a truly amazing product to behold because nowhere on the package does it say what it is, i.e., the words "X Windows Server" do not appear anywhere. Nonetheless, it functions quite nicely if you don't mind a beeping noise every time you use the meta key in Emacs.
After I installed Netscape, I noticed that it took 30 seconds (literally) of paging to switch from the X server to the Web browser. Apparently 16 MB of RAM is enough to run NT but not more than one app. I bought two 16 MB gold-plated SIMMs but my friend Chris made me return them. "Your board is jumpered for interleaved access. You need four 8 MB symmetrical SIMMs. Also, with tin-plated sockets on the motherboard, you need tin-plated SIMMs because there is a wiping action..."
It took me mere seconds to snap the memory in, after which the machine ran screamingly fast, much more responsive than my desktop HP workstation (saddled with Unix, X Windows, Motif, and VUE). I happily started up GNU Emacs 19 and prepared to edit some files on remote systems using ange-ftp. Ange-ftp is one of the best features of Emacs. It lets you "edit locally; save globally". Keystrokes are handled locally but when you issue a standard save command, Emacs automagically FTPs the file back where it came from. Not bad for a 20-year-old product.
Unfortunately, Emacs 19.30 running under NT doesn't do ange-ftp (19.31 allegedly does). In fact, there are a whole bunch of issues NT Emacs issues to consider. My friend Doug told me that I should be using SAMBA on my various Unix boxes that would make their file systems look like a Microsoft "SMB" server.
Most of the people I know who are facile with both NT and Unix have eventually taken down their NT Web servers and gone back to Unix. I think I'm beginning to understand why. WinNT seems to have what C programmers are fond of calling "memory leaks". This problem was solved by the Lisp programming language in 1959 but it has been preserved through the decades by low-level languages like C. Running just a Netscape browser and the eXalt X server, this NT machine would regularly exhaust its 125 MB swap file and nearly grind to a halt. Netscape of course has its own memory leaks but even after I'd killed it and eXalt, the OS's footprint was surprisingly larger than it had been on startup. My desktop HP Unix 10.01 machine, which runs more Netscape browser windows, more X windows, a local Emacs with many sub-shells, plus a porky relational database and a Naviserver handling 10 Web hits/second, is much more responsive (though it is an old Unix box with 64 MB of RAM and only has an 80 MHz processor).
Oh yes, the HP machine's screen saver also works reliably; oftentimes I would come upon the WinNT box and find its screen undimmed. I wasn't sorry when Richard came to pick it up.
My experience with netscape on NT is that it leaks memory, but if you kill it the os will recover it. The trick is that when you quit netscape, it doesn't always die. If you go into task manager and look at the list of active processes, netscape will still be there even though the windows are all gone. If you select this guy and kill it manually, the memory reappears ! It seems fair to blame netscape for this, and not NT.
Also, for X servers, I recommend eXceed or eXodus. I particularly like eXceed because i can map alt to meta, and everything works.
-- Lee Schumacher, March 3, 1997