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As the industry manager for the engineering market, I published this paper to define the overall positioning for Microsoft in the technical marketplace. At the time, this positioning was still workstation-specific.

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Microsoft Solutions in Engineering
Technology for Designing and Building Better Products

A Strategic Briefing Backgrounder
March 1996


Within the engineering community, your day-to-day success often depends on your ability to use computers efficiently. Within the design environment, in particular, computers enhance your creativity by making the tools of the trade easier to use and, consequently, increasing your productivity. And, within the context of an entire organization, computers have resulted in an increased usage of communications which results in more efficient business processes.

Two industry dynamics have changed the way that engineers work. First, the pace of change has accelerated. It’s no longer good enough to take one or more years between product releases; today, engineers often must work with product cycles of 12 months or shorter. This faster pace has encouraged engineers to adopt computers as part of their design environment in order to simplify and automate the design process. By 1993, over 90% of all design engineers used computers as part of their daily jobs. Consequently, computer-aided design applications have reduced the time it takes to complete new projects.

Second, the design engineer is a very important part of the overall business process of manufacturing and marketing of products—this process results in greater demands on engineering departments to share data more effectively with other functional groups within the company. For example, it has become important for engineers to easily and quickly share their design specifications with the manufacturing groups so that the production lines can be tooled up more quickly. At the same time, engineers must share the same design documents with the marketing teams who are developing the sales campaign for the product. Improved communications between the engineering group and other departments has resulted in an efficient use of resources at many successful companies.

These two dynamics influence the computing strategy for the engineering desktop. With the role of the engineer becoming increasingly more integrated with other functional groups within organizations, you should consider at least three questions if you are evaluating new solutions to your engineering needs.

n     Will I be able to get the kinds of engineering design tools and productivity applications that I need to use, on the platform I select?

n     Will I be able to purchase computer systems that get me the performance, reliability, and other features that I need to be productive yet remain within my budgets?

n     Will the operating environment make it easier for me to accomplish my job, both today and tomorrow?


A Choice Between Two Operating Systems

Microsoft offers two 32-bit operating systems, Windows® 95 and Windows NT® Workstation, that provide you with a choice of operating systems to meet your engineering and business needs. These two operating systems are similar in many ways. They share a common programming interface (Win32®) and object technology (OLE) so that applications can run on both systems interchangeably. They also support common networking protocols so that data can be shared more easily across different functional groups. Finally, both of these operating systems support thousands of existing 16-bit MS-DOS® and Windows applications.

For advanced users, such as engineers, Microsoft recommends Windows NT Workstation. Windows NT Workstation is designed to meet the most demanding needs by leveraging scaleable hardware designs and providing the highest level of reliability and protection possible for your data and applications. Windows NT offers the additional performance you often need because it can support computers using either Intel- or RISC-based microprocessors in addition to its ability to effectively use multiple processors. Plus, Windows NT includes the OpenGL™ 3-D graphics libraries used by most professional graphics applications. Most engineering software vendors have focused on Windows NT Workstation as their target platform for these and other reasons.

Although this paper will focus on Windows NT Workstation, it should be noted that Windows 95 is also used for many engineering applications. Windows 95 shares the same Win32 programming interfaces—which means that applications can run on either operating system. Windows 95 is designed to deliver a variety of new capabilities and improved reliability while still providing good performance on today’s typical system configuration and compatibility with your current Windows and MS-DOS-based applications and peripherals. However, in general, Windows NT is designed to offer better performance scaling towards the high-end.


Providing solutions that improve your productivity

If you’re like many advanced users, you probably use a variety of applications and computers to get your day-to-day work done. In mechanical design environments, you may have a drafting application, often with extensions for solid modeling or rendering, in addition to analysis tools or industry-specific add-ons for certain design problems. In electronic design environments, engineers may have a schematic capture application coupled with a variety of simulation and verification tools. Some companies even define a standard workbench that every engineer is expected to be able to use that can exceed ten applications. The engineering applications run on the most powerful system that you can afford because time and performance are critical elements of success.

However, engineers also use many other applications for secondary tasks such as word processing for product specifications or document reviews, project management, email, or other project-related tasks. With these additional tasks, engineers often find that they work with their primary design or analysis applications less than half of the time. In recent years, many engineers even use more than one systems as part of their daily work—over 50% of engineers use one system for most of their design and analysis work while also using a second system, almost always a personal computer, for office productivity applications. This resource duplication is expensive and can decrease efficiency.

Consequently, engineers can leverage their computer systems by integrating their applications on a single computer—rather than switching between different systems. A single working environment helps reduce costs and inefficiencies resulting from the average engineer’s use of multiple systems. Beyond the productivity gains you get by running your applications on one system, you can also free up a significant portion of your capital budgets for other acquisitions.


Thousands of applications to choose from

Windows NT Workstation has provided the developers of leading engineering applications with the best features offered by traditional workstations and personal computers. Windows NT offers a 32-bit operating system that can support the most advanced kinds of applications—and it supports a wide variety of economical, cost-effective hardware systems. As a result, the leading vendors of mechanical CAD/CAM/CAE, electronic circuit design, or other advanced engineering design and analysis applications have already made their applications available for Windows NT Workstation—as well as Windows 95. A small sampling of these engineering applications that are currently available today are shown in Table 1 and Table 2.


Electronic Design Application


Allegro Board Design



Veribest (Intergraph)


Mentor Graphics (Antares)


OrCAD Systems

OrCAD Design Desktop

PADS Software



Workview Office

For many of these developers, this is the first non-UNIX® operating system that they have ever supported. Other developers, who already had applications for PCs prior to this, have found that Windows NT offers a boost in productivity and overall reliability. Many of these products have been specifically designed to take advantage of the 32-bit environment and additional productivity features offered by both of these Windows operating systems.


Mechanical CAD/CAM Application









Bentley Systems




EDS Unigraphics



Catia/Cadam Drafting


Solid Edge



MARC Analysis


Matra Datavision


Parametric Technology



I-DEAS Master Series


Solidworks 95







In addition to the operating systems that support these engineering tools, Microsoft offers a complete suite of office productivity applications that can help boost the productivity of a typical engineer by eliminating the need to switch between a dedicated workstation and a personal computer. With Microsoft Office, engineers can complete a complete cost analysis of new product designs using Excel, document the complete parts specification using Word, help the marketing department develop customer-ready presentations on their projects using PowerPoint, and so forth. Furthermore, large design, manufacturing or construction projects can be easily managed using Microsoft Project,. These applications are designed to be used with both Windows 95 and Windows NT.

In addition to all of these applications, both Windows NT and Windows 95 support thousands of productivity applications from other software vendors. In addition to the new 32-bit applications being introduced, both operating systems run the older generation of 16-bit productivity applications originally designed for MS-DOS® or Microsoft Windows. These applications run without a translation layer of technology such as WABI (Windows Application Binary Interface) or some other binary interface. This results in better performance and interoperability across all applications.


Improved application and data integration

Many benefits can be derived from consolidation of engineering and office productivity applications onto a single desktop platform based on Windows NT Workstation or Windows 95. Obviously, there is a budgetary savings on the hardware. However, there is a second benefit that is even more significant in the long-term. End-to-end productivity gains result from using applications more effectively by getting improved interoperability and transference of data between different applications. Many industry analysts say that, on systems with Windows, it’s easier for users to learn how to use new applications—simply because 60% of the command layout and menu structure are similar across applications.

Beyond the ease of use that the consistent graphical user interface provides, Windows provides an object technology termed OLE that makes the exchange of data between applications easier. With OLE, it’s easy to consolidate applications onto a single computer and put an end to the frustrations of requiring data conversion utilities simply to read files across different systems. OLE helps result in better integration of data between applications and, ultimately, can increase productivity.

For example, consider how a mechanical engineer may transfer pictures to the documentation team. If multiple systems are used, a common way to perform this simple task is to create a 3-D rendering of the design on a UNIX workstation, copy the file to a server on the network, have the writer copy the file to their system, and then import or convert the picture to a format understood by their system. This four-step process can be reduced to a single step with OLE—either the writer or engineer can render the picture on their system and directly insert the resulting object into a document.

The combination of leading design applications, thousands of productivity applications, and leading-edge productivity improvements with object technologies like OLE makes Windows NT and Windows 95 an ideal environment for engineers.


Workstation performance for advanced applications

When you’re working on an important design project, the system should not stand in your way. Windows NT Workstation makes no compromises on performance. At the 1995 Autofact conference in Chicago, the most powerful mechanical design applications were showcased using Windows NT together with workstations and peripherals from Digital Equipment, Intergraph, NEC, NeTpower and many other systems vendors with high-performance workstations.

In short, Windows NT Workstation is capable of supporting the most advanced applications with the performance and functionality expected of a world-class operating system. Hardware vendors have responded to this fact and are offering Windows NT Workstation in configurations designed to support the engineering community.


Advanced operating system capabilities

If you’re running state-of-the-art engineering applications, it’s important that your operating system is built on state-of-the-art technology. Windows NT Workstation meets, and often exceeds, the capabilities offered by traditional workstation operating systems. Unlike operating systems that are based on an architecture that is over twenty years old, Windows NT employs many recent advances in operating system design.

The modern, microkernel architecture of Windows NT ensures that it has the flexibility to add new capabilities as they become needed. With a complete 32-bit environment built around an efficient kernel, Windows NT is a reliable and extensible operating system. This architecture is designed to get high performance from today’s 32-bit CPUs, including Intel’s recently announced Pentium® Pro microprocessor. Since workstation applications have a huge appetite for memory and storage capacity, Windows NT employs an advanced memory management model that can address up to 4 GB of memory. The 64-bit NTFS file system can manage up to 17 million gigabytes of disk storage.

The result is performance. Independent benchmarks have been performed with leading mechanical design and animation software applications that are available on both Windows NT Workstation and various UNIX workstation systems. These benchmarks show that Windows NT offers equivalent performance to UNIX workstations while the acquisition cost of the hardware for the Windows NT system is roughly half the cost.

In short, Windows NT Workstation is a workstation-class operating system that is designed to offer you the power of a workstation coupled with the ease-of-use, productivity, and compatibility of a Windows-based personal computer. Windows NT Workstation offers you capabilities either equivalent to or more advanced than traditional workstation operating systems.


High performance computing

On the hardware side, Windows NT Workstation gives you many choices through its support for multiple hardware architectures. In fact, Windows NT is the only operating system that offers a single implementation across four different microprocessor families including Intel® (x86 systems including Pentium™ and Pentium Pro), Digital Alpha, MIPS R4400, and IBM/Motorola PowerPC™ CPUs. This broad CPU support results in a range of raw performance that allows users more choices to get the right level of performance.

Figure1 - Many leading mechanical design applications, such as Pro/ENGINEER, use 3-D graphics.

Beyond mere portability, Windows NT supports symmetric multi-processor configurations. This increases your options for even better performance. The combination of portability and scalability across a broad, non-proprietary spectrum of hardware ensures that you can make the right choice of hardware to give you the performance you need. Moreover, customers can benefit from increased competition between system vendors.

That’s not all that Windows NT offers in terms of high-performance hardware. Many advanced applications, particularly in mechanical design or architectural markets, need accelerated graphics capabilities beyond the level included with typical system configurations. Solid modelers need 3‑D graphics in order to provide the interactive visualization that design engineers want. Every copy of Windows NT offers complete support for advanced 3‑D graphics using the OpenGL™ interfaces originally designed by Silicon Graphics. This graphics library allows powerful 3‑D modeling and animation software to run on Windows NT. This support extends to specialized, accelerated OpenGL hardware offered by graphics vendors like Accelgraphics, Intergraph and 3D Labs.


Complete network interoperability

If you work in an environment with more than one computer or if you need to connect to an on-line database, then you need to consider the networking capabilities of the operating system. Microsoft’s networking philosophy is simple:  “Any workstation should be able to connect to any server using any protocol.” Consequently, both Windows NT Workstation and Windows 95 support multi-protocol, multi-network communications so that you can plug directly into your existing network.

A wide variety of protocols are built into these operating systems including both TCP/IP and IPX/SPX. Plus, both operating systems support remote access services for dial-in users who need to connect to remote networks. For TCP/IP networks, Windows NT includes common utilities like FTP and Telnet—even PPP and SLIP protocols are built-in for easy access to the Internet. Beyond all these capabilities, third party software vendors provide a large number of add-on products for capabilities such as NFS and X support for interoperability with UNIX environments.

The bottom line is that Microsoft considers networking functionality to be a critical part of the operating system. Both Windows NT Workstation and Windows 95 provide good solutions for design teams that need to collaborate across an organization.


Supporting the next generation of applications

The goal of software developers is to make complex technology easier to use—whether it’s providing the core set of tools that make their customers more productive or whether it’s merely simplifying the development processes in order to improve their time-to-market and, hence, offering improvements to customers more frequently. The most recent generation of software tools in the engineering industry is providing both of these characteristics. These tools have been newly developed from the ground up. They leverage the best of the techniques that users are familiar with today yet they also use new ways of working with or presenting data. The results are applications that change the way that engineers work.


From yesterday through tomorrow

The first wave of engineering design and analysis applications was focused around the development of point tools. Engineers benefited from the simple automation of techniques they had learned in school—computers made it easier to perform the drawing, drafting and design process coupled with background data analysis and calculations.

The second major generation of applications will help increase your productivity even further. The linkage between high performance graphics, computing capabilities, and integration between different applications is starting to be leveraged. As software has become more complex, developers have responded with suites of applications—in the engineering market, there are often add-on modules that perform a particular task. But these have only integrated with the engineering environment.

This second generation of applications will take advantage of standards that enable much richer data sharing between engineering tools and the more numerous productivity tools employed by computer users in all business areas. As the design process is extended from the initial product concept through production to eventual support or maintenance years later, the integration of data from all phases of the product’s life cycle needs to be supported. Standards are critical in order to ensure a robust environment. The engineering community requires the development and adoption of standards because technical users have such a broad range of requirements for interoperability—between the data models that product designs are based upon, between the technology upon which their applications are based, and between different computers for network interoperability. Microsoft participates in the standards definition and adoption process on many levels.

The OLE technology developed by Microsoft is one path where the market is heading towards better integration of data across multiple applications. OLE is core object technology can be used to integrate data across many applications. By treating all data as objects and facilitating the easy transfer of objects between applications, OLE enables applications to share data without requiring custom data conversion tools. OLE has become the standard object technology for personal computers. However, OLE is more than just a standard for personal computers—OLE can easily be used in multiplatform environments where you may have Macintosh® or UNIX systems using the COM standard developed in conjunction with Digital Equipment Corporation.

Other Microsoft technologies that will become increasingly important as standards within the technical community in coming years include the DirectDraw and Reality Labs graphics libraries for high performance 2-D graphics and real-time 3-D graphics, respectively. Microsoft also participates in computer hardware standards. For example, for computer manufacturers, the Plug and Play technology that is currently integrated into Windows 95 has set a standard for device interoperability making it easier for users to add new peripherals to their systems.


Adopting industry standards to meet needs

If customers require the use of various industry standards, then Microsoft will adopt third party standards. Microsoft will often implement these standards within the operating system in order to meet the needs of advanced developers. For example, the OpenGL 3-D graphics specification was originally designed by Silicon Graphics to offer a standard set of high performance graphics primitives to applications developers. Microsoft recognized that this would be an important standard for the computer-aided design market and has included full support for OpenGL within Windows NT since 1994 and Windows 95 since 1995. Microsoft holds a seat on the OpenGL Architectural Review Board and helps guide new developments in this area. Similarly in networking, Windows NT and Windows 95 both include a complete TCP/IP and IPX/SPX protocol stacks.

Microsoft doesn’t always perform the actual implementation of the standard within the operating system. Other vendors often implement industry standards building upon technologies offered within Microsoft operating systems. For example, there are two initiatives based on OLE in the manufacturing and engineering community that provide new standards for data and design interoperability across multiple applications.

And, of course, vendors often provide standalone products, based on other industry standards, that can fulfill the needs of particular customers. For example, Intergraph and other vendors have introduced NFS and X-Window software that are designed to provide additional levels of interoperability between Microsoft and UNIX systems.

These efforts come together in the next generation of engineering design applications. These applications vendors are taking special efforts in their applications to leverage many of the Windows standards mentioned above.  These vendors include Intergraph (Solid Edge), Solidworks (Solidworks), and 3D-Eye (Trispectives).  By leveraging the standards built into the Windows environment, all three of these vendors are offering incremental value to their customers by ensuring that the designs and data that they create will be highly usable by other Windows applications. Their users will be able to get more usage from the systems and applications that they’re already using.



Design engineers are among the most demanding users of computer systems. They place very high requirements on both their systems and applications in terms of functionality and performance. Microsoft is helping to make engineers more productive. At the most basic level, Microsoft has developed a 32-bit operating system, Windows NT Workstation, that is designed to meet these requirements. Microsoft also recognizes that engineers need to share data more effectively across multiple applications and has developed applications, Microsoft Office, and specifications that are designed to make this easier. In the beginning of this document, three questions were posed if you are evaluating new systems for engineering.

Will I be able to get the kinds of engineering design tools and productivity applications that I need to use, on the platform I select?

Vendors developing and porting to the Win32 platform have been at the forefront of the industry press over the last twelve months. Virtually all of the leading applications used by engineers are now available for Windows NT Workstation – and many are also designed for use with Windows 95. Microsoft and other vendors provide a broad range of standard office productivity applications that, when combined with design applications on a single computer system, results in productivity increases.

Will I be able to purchase computer systems that get me the performance, reliability, and other features that I need to be productive yet remain within my budgets?

Chart 1 - The Windows NT Workstation market is growing at an average of 78% per year.

Windows NT Workstation gives users the best of both UNIX and PC environments. It offers the power and robustness offered by UNIX-based systems together with all the benefits of using Microsoft Windows. The hardware for Windows NT offers a solid combination of being more affordable than other workstation platforms while also offering the standout performance that engineers require. Windows NT is currently being widely adopted in the technical community. Consequently, as shown in the chart at left, analysts are predicting that Windows NT will outsell all other leading workstation operating systems together by 1997.

Will the operating environment make it easier for me to accomplish my job, both today and tomorrow?

In the last six months, the latest wave of engineering applications have started to become available. These applications offer much more than straight translations from UNIX or DOS environments – they offer enhancements designed to make engineers more productive. The leverage of standard technologies like OLE and OpenGL within the applications themselves results in a higher level of productivity through improved data sharing and graphics responsiveness.

For more information, please connect to Microsoft’s World-Wide Web server on the Internet at  This page includes a white paper on use of Windows NT Workstation on engineering and scientific desktops in addition to a variety of other papers on topics of interest to the technical community.



Note 1: According to a survey performed for Machine Design magazine by Simmons Research Corp.

Note 2: These operating systems are described in the Microsoft Windows NT Workstation and Windows 95 Market Bulletin. July 1995.

Note 3: Please refer to the white paper on Windows NT Workstation in Engineering and Science that focuses on the role of Windows NT within the engineering and scientific communities. August 1995.

Note 4: According to a survey that Simmons Research performed for Machine Design magazine, over 85% of all engineers use a PC and 43% used a UNIX workstation.

Note 5: For readers familiar with UNIX®, please refer to the white paper describing Windows NT from a UNIX Point of View. September 1995.

Note 6: Please refer to the OpenGL Technology Brief for more details. August 1995.

Note 7: TCP/IP is the most commonly used network protocol within most technical environments because of the wide variety of equipment in use.

Note 8: COM, or Common Object Model, is one of several object standards adopted by the Object Management Group.

Note 9: OpenGL libraries for Windows 95 are now offered with the Microsoft Developer Network.

Note 10: The OLE for Design and Modeling initiative led by Intergraph and the Industry Foundation Class activities driven by Autodesk both are intended to make it easier for engineers to exchange components between applications by treating the components as objects.

Note 11: IDC, Worldwide Workstation Review and Forecast 1994-1999, December 1995.



The descriptions of other companies’ products in this paper are provided only as a convenience to the reader. Microsoft cannot guarantee their accuracy, and the products may change over time. Also, the descriptions are intended as brief highlights to aid understanding, rather than as thorough coverage. For authoritative descriptions of these products, please consult their respective manufacturers.

The information contained in this document represents the current view of Microsoft Corporation on the issues discussed as of the date of publication.  Because Microsoft must respond to changing market conditions, it should not be interpreted to be a commitment on the part of Microsoft, and Microsoft cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information presented after the date of publication. This document is for information purposes only.  MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS DOCUMENT. 

©1996 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Microsoft, MS-DOS, Win32, Windows, and Windows NT are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation. Macintosh is a registered trademark of Apple Computer, Inc. Intel and Pentium is a registered trademark of Intel Corporation. OpenGL is a trademark of Silicon Graphics. UNIX is a registered trademark in the United States and/or other countries, licensed exclusively through X/Open Co., Ltd.


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