Windows NT, which is likely to sell in only limited quantities this year, is written specifically for networks of PCs, and competes directly only with IBM's recent upgrade of its operating system, OS/2 2.1. But NT's arrival could shake up other sectors of the industry, allowing software limited to PCs powered by Intel chips, for example, to run on computers equipped with competing semi-conductors.
Earlier this month, several dozen leading PC makers rolled out new computers using Intel's new Pentium chip. But before the year is out, Pentium will face competition from a new Digital Equipment chip and the PowerPC chip, a joint effort by Motorola, IBM and Apple that will sell for half the price of Intel's.
Microsoft's announcement comes a week after the release of IBM's 'client-server' operating system, which is being heavily promoted in the US with an advertising campaign aimed directly at Windows NT. 'Nice Try,' read the full-page adverts for OS/2 2.1, with heavy emphasis on the first letters of each word.
Analysts nonethless believe NT has the clear edge over IBM's version, thanks to Microsoft's dominance of the market for operating systems. This year, Windows will outsell OS/2 almost 10 to 1, shipping 25 million copies worldwide versus 2.7 million copies, and can boast a far wider range of applications programs.
'It's almost irrelevant which system is better,' says Mary McCaffrey, software analyst with the Alex Brown brokerage in New York. 'Microsoft's marketing capability is what is going to matter here.'