For some security designs, it's the first and most basic computer decision. For dealer and installer firms serving commercial or residential clients, it's a given or a starting-point. There's many choices among turnkey vendors, through systems integration or inside home automation projects. The common platforms: network operating systems (NOS) or server OS; application operating systems or application servers in net environments; and desktop operating systems.

NOS sets overall processing, communications and data sharing standards within local, wide and Internet/intranets. Application and desktop OS set specific data structures and graphical user interfaces closer to the workstation or desktop. The latter impact system operators or homeowners; NOS is more invisible but an essential influencing force.

There's a lot happening with operating systems that's also impacting security designs.

A virtual reality security officer, literally a human robo-cam with belt-buckle computer, made quite an impression at the American Society for Industrial Security exposition in Atlanta. It wasn't easy. ASIS is filled with images.

One important image -- platforms -- came from ASIS and the International Security Conference in New York City. There's more choices today, after a security systems history that tracks the development of computer hardware.

Migration of Platform
As security systems evolved, they're operated on minicomputers such as DEC VAX and proprietary firmware in a control panel and readers. The design is a good one. But a lot has migrated to stand-alone desktop computers and, more recently, to client/server networks, or piggy-back through a facility's communications backbone.

Application and desktop operating systems such as DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95 and Macintosh are familiar names. Often, so's the hardware inside -- an Intel microprocessor? And the chip's thirst for more power is feeding the "features" war among platforms. At late summer security conferences, some integrated security and access control manufacturers introduced 32-bit Windows 95 versions of their software, moving beyond more typical 16-bit desktop OS.

Yet, at the NOS level, there's a good old technology, features and marketing battle brewing. It'll impact lines of equipment a dealer carries; relationships and services with clients, commercial and residential; and consolidation of vendors.

In NOS platforms, functionality is key. The bottom line: the primary function of a network operating system is file and printer sharing.

More Complex Environment
Beyond such basics, newer networks and their operating systems are more complex.

That complexity is driven by diverse applications, multi-tasking, multi-users, integration, remote access and multi-media, among other factors. But in this NOS arena, technical problems aren't as critical as budget concerns, system changes and ease-of-use, expressed in labor cost for commercial clients or in "simple operation" for home users.

A study by Strategic Networks Consulting Inc. discovered that about 60 percent of local area network costs go to "change management." This is just "to keep up." As security roots even deeper in computer and communications technology, dealers and integrators will sell more standardized applications and flexibility -- an openness which creates more change. And more sales. But more headaches for buyers.

Turning this into a two-prong opportunity, security firms can increase client interest with headache medicine -- NOS platforms with features such as network management utilities and point management of components -- features that give back to buyers a greater ability to make changes more easy.

Are Network Computers Evolutionary?
Among leading network operating systems, evolution is from peer-to-peer (DOS extensions) to client/server to, possibly, low-cost network computers (NC), which could package as intelligent set-tops married with home TV monitors or as "less smart" office workstations.

Speed, that's faster data communications speed, also matters more in NOS.

On the commercial side, most business net users are moving slowly but surely to high-speed 100 mbps LANs. Emerging: what computer industry research firm Dataquest calls "gigabit ethernet," with roots in both ethernet and fiber channel and with the ability to carry data at an effective rate of 1 gigabit per second while retaining ethernet framing and managed-object specifications.

In wide area nets, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology and ATM servers accelerate throughput: 155 M ATMs as WAN backbones that carry voice, interactive video and data.

In home systems, speed's even hotter thanks to movies-on-demand, multi-media Internet and video-phone.

Multi-level System Speed
Speed, of course, also plays out in computer processing as well as data communications.

So there's a real design and cost give-and-take between NOS and application/desktop OS. For example, some home systems providers will see value in selling a fairly-dumb (and cheap) home set-top or network computer and then provide that consumer applications that download or only operate at the point of purchase. Here data communications speed is the cost-effective essential. There's also more opportunity to sell services through a central station that delivers Rambo as fast as emergency response.

An opposite scenario: fully-featured (and more expensive) home computers integrate and interface with home systems and outside services -- the cost-effectiveness is in faster processing speed in the desktop OS. Here there's more value (and profit) in the installation itself and it's more complex home systems network.

Overall, the most visible NOS battle is between Novell and Microsoft.

On the commercial side, it's between their evolving NetWare and Windows NT Server products. There's more than those two: UNIX NOS; IBM with its "can't get no respect" OS/2; and even DEC VMS in a stretch.

Battle Will Accelerate
The battle goes galactic with next generation higher bandwidth, multi-media, virtual reality applications. They're destined to emerge at the highest and lowest ends of the market: in large, sprawling business enterprise security systems and in entertainment- and communications-driven home systems.

With integration, functionality comes in handier: multi-user and pre-emptive multi-tasking are two examples. Here NT, UNIX and OS/2 have application server advantages over NetWare. As Internet and intranet security applications emerge, Windows NT and UNIX have embedded advantages there.

Among differences among NOS products, compatibility is another issue. Users want the widest selection of hardware and options. There are also security and fault tolerance differences, too.

Platform Case Studies

Intelligent I/O, Partitioning Advance
Hidden behind the network operating system hype are small but potentially mighty design and technology advances.

Take, for instance, the design into I/O devices of intelligent I/O processors. The "I20 Initiative" aims at a standard for input/output interfaces for servers, operating systems and adapters. Intelligent I/O will come slow to market: it demands high engineering investment and agreement among computer and peripheral makers, a competitive lot. Intelligent I/O will cover ethernet and token ring controllers and SCSI ports and devices.

And partitioning will grow more important, especially if network computers become more important. These lower cost workstations, and not desktop and personal computers, operating in a client/server configuration and over a variety of communications lines, including dial-up, could easily become the foundation of emerging integrated security network designs, thanks in part to partitioning.

That was the theme at the Casi Rusco (Boca Raton, Fla.) end user conference. The firm, acquired by Sentrol Lifesafety Corp. (Tualatin, Ore.), showed off partitioned workstation software it calls SAM for Secure Area Manager at that meeting, ISC East and ASIS.

Partitioning allows any workstations or PCs located anywhere within the local or wide area net to automatically restrict records, displays and alarms. There's less expense with workstations which can have 386 engines and less hard drive memory. Able to handle but not limited to a TCP/IP connect, SAM terminals can host communicate through dial-up (9,600 baud or greater) or direct serial.

The Windows and NT design provides "reasonable performance" over dial-up, compared to molasses X-terminals using dial-up. SAM can handle ethernet and token ring with equal ability, says Casi Rusco.

CE: For Set-tops Or Mobile Computing?

The latest OS platform?

Just two months ago, Microsoft introduced Windows CE for handheld personal computers (HPC) that firms such as Casio, Philips and others say they'll use for HPCs as well as integrated into digital cameras, set-tops, digital information pagers, cellular smart phones, digital video disc players (DVDs), guard tour systems and other products.

For home systems, CE also has power for commercial security multi-media, mobile and remote surveillance.

Uniquely, the new platform, a subset of Win32 application programming interface but with a Windows 95 interface, is built on non-Intel 32-bit SH and MIPS RISC microprocessors. As envisioned by Microsoft, a handheld computer with CE will have a keyboard and not a stylus. Handhelds, coming to market by end of year, will price at under $500. For consumers, there's the ability to access the Internet and browse the Web; for business, there's easy connection and synch to desktops.

On the consumer side, Windows CE is that NC concept again -- cheap, easy network computing. But so far, home automation studies analyzed by SDM Magazine show TAFs or technically advanced families are more often purchasers of home automation through home computer systems.

The CE approach may first emerge in portable and mobile business computing. For instance, the Modular Bus Architecture from Vadem Corp. provides CE an on-chip peripheral connect so that various office system peripherals are plug-and-play.

Another indicator: RAM Mobile Data of Woodbridge, N.J., says it will support the wireless-enabled applications for the CE platform. RAM's two-way nationwide wireless data communications service, based on packet switching technology, is used in alarm signal communications as well as other security apps.

It's not too much a stretch to recognize a future of private security responders armed with handhelds receiving alarm signals and the client's site and condition data on the road, on-the-fly.

Among CE competitors: Eden 2.0 from Eden Group Ltd. also aims at handhelds, set-tops and Web browsing.

Desktop OS Changes? A Battle Among Giants
Technical themes embedded within new desktop OS plans include 32-bit architecture; communications and interoperability standards; and a Windows or Windows-like GUI.

From Microsoft, the Windows 95 32-bit PC operating system is now being embraced by more access control and integrated security systems makers and integrators.

Beyond a commitment by more businesses to Windows 95, the operating system, say some, has "legs" in home systems. Applications range from interactive video games and Internet access to digital TV and home video-phone. NET-TV of Boca Raton, Fla., bundles Windows 95 into its products. Microsoft is using its OS to platform partner with others: most recently, the firm announced that the AT&T Internet service WorldNet will bundle with Windows 95 and Microsoft Explorer Web browser.

From IBM Corp., its 32-bit OS/2 unwrapped two new versions this year: a Warp Server NOS and a desktop version with voice recognition. Not exactly a marketing barn-burner, OS/2 does run Windows apps and supports 95, 3.x, NT, OS/2, Warp Connect, Warp, DOS and Macintosh clients. If NC and Java, the Internet programming language celebrity of the moment, hit it big, so will OS/2.

OS/2 downside: fewer OS/2 apps compared to, say, NT. One vertical market with OS/2 strength is banking, where the IBM NOS has considerable users.

Under the marketing shadow of 32-bit Windows, UNIX nonetheless continues to gain security system users, especially where those systems are part of an enterprise-wide IT scheme.

UNIX, really a lot of different versions, has advances: its wide-area Internet abilities in TCP/IP protocol; partnerships among vendors seeking a common UNIX and print standards; and emerging 64-bit UNIX.

On the UNIX horizon: Plan 9, an effort to develop a new generation (and UNIX replacement) NOS for multi-media and mobile computing.

A number of security vendors platform on UNIX: Cardkey Systems; Westinghouse Security Electronics; Honeywell; Casi-Rusco; CSI Control Systems International; and integrator Chubb Security, to name a few. The UNIX GUI is sometimes X-Windows; native Windows can shell over UNIX, too. Other vendors accommodate UNIX through their OS standards and protocols.

Plan 9 (yes, it was named after the eye-hurting sci-fi cult film "Plan 9 From Outer Space") is the brainchild of Bell Labs' Dave Presotto and Dennis Ritchie. The latter was a primary developer of UNIX in the 1960s. Plan 9 will support multidimensional distributed environments by connecting unlimited computers to local and wide area networks.

If Plan 9 succeeds better than the old movie, it will impact security systems at the top and bottom. Uniquely, AT&T's developing a set-top that uses a non-Intel embedded RISC processor and a Plan 9 OS. The box handles modem, voice compression, digital voice messages, downloading of software via a network and graphical display on a TV screen.

On the Horizon?
It's 64-bit. Already in new video game platforms, 64-bit is the equivalent of, say, ten Pentiums working together.

While 64-bit can apply to games, personal computers and local area nets, its primary application is to drive enterprise servers. Within commercial applications: it's appearing as high-performance UNIX enterprise computing for high speed transactions and Internet services. In the mid-range: for application, data base, LAN and network file system servers.

Platform Products

New Products Match Platforms Advances
Platforms were under a number of new products at the ISC East and ASIS exhibitions. Here's a quick tour from the editor's "from-the-floor" notes.

CCTV Command, Control
The new version of the Alligiant GUI (CCTV command and control integrated with security management systems) loads into a 486 desktop, uses Microsoft Object Linking and Embedding and employs full 32-bit Windows NT and Windows 95. It's from Philips Communication and Security Systems of Lancaster, Pa.

A Biometric Engine
IriScan of Mt. Laurel, N.J., with its iris recognition biometric ID systems, says it is working on an "iris engine" platform to integrate IriScan software in a wide variety of computer products.

On-patrol Electronics
Called Officer 2000, a security officer of the future was shown at the ASIS conference by Pinkerton Security & Investigation Services, Encino, Calif. It uses Rockwell's new Trekker Windows-based system to voice-control a Pentium computer that's worn on a belt or shoulder-strap. The officer uses a head-up VGA display worn on a headband.

Video Trans on the Net
"Many banks, hospitals and large corporation use innovative local area nets to connect satellite and branch offices for accounting and data transmission," says Thomas Pappageorge of Gyyr, Anaheim, Calif. "With such an efficient, high bandwidth system in place, end users want to take advantage of it." These LANs join the list of telecommunications services able to accommodate video from Gyyr's FasTrans2004 transmitter to any FasTrans2004 receiver. The others: T1/E1, ISDN, Switch 56 and plain ordinary telephone (POT) lines.

UNIX Platform
The Cardkey Systems (Simi Valley, Calif.) Pegasys1000 Release 4 uses a host computer and can communicate over an 10Base2 ethernet TCP/IP local area net. The system platforms on a Pentium and runs under SCO UNIX Open Server Enterprise.

Windows 96/NT Platform
The Mosler (Hamilton, Oh.) LINX-WIN System can platform on Windows 95 and NT in addition to protocols and topologies such as TCP/IP, IPX and Net Bios.

Bringing in Fire, Too
Drawing a lot of attention at the ASIS show, the NT 3400 security management information system from Simplex of Gardner, Mass., platforms on Windows NT. At ASIS, the Simplex talk was smoother integration with intelligent fire and life safety systems.

Open Data Base Grows
Xe-Net Access, new from Xetron Pittway, West Chicago, Ill., is a multi-user, multi-tasking Windows 95 or Windows 3.11-based system that is Open Data Base Compliant. There's CCTV and imaging ID integration as well as alarm monitoring.

Native Version & GUI
NexSentry Manager from Westinghouse Security Electronics of Santa Clara, Calif., is an application written in native Windows NT and has a graphical user interface that closely follows Microsoft interface guidelines.

Hitting the Hot Buttons
Version 5.0 of C*Cure 750 from Sensormatic Access Control division (Boca Raton, Fla.) is compatible with Windows 95. The new version includes: Windows 95 GUI, fully distributed system architecture, user defined data base parameters, programmable inputs and outputs and Windows multi-tasking.

Threshold Goes 95
At both ISC and ASIS, Thorofare, N.J.-based Checkpoint Systems Inc.'s Access Control Products Group released Threshold 95, the Windows 95 and Windows 3.11 version of the firm's facility access control and security system. Threshold is ODBC.

Fast Ethernet
N*Control from Westar Systems, Inc., Santa Ana, Calif., is written in native 32-bit Windows NT and incorporates standard ethernet as the primary communication method for the computer and field hardware. The N*Control Gateway platforms on an Intel computer. These gateways can interoperate on the ethernet with standard 10BaseT, 10Base2 and fiber-based ethernet cards for speeds of 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps. Protocol options: Net Bios and TCP/IP.