For Erica and Brian Swerdlow, selecting a new network operating system for their company was a trial. "It was making us crazy," Erica Swerdlow recalls.

When they founded EBS Public Relations, in 1993, the Swerdlows set up a local area network (LAN) so all three employees could share data. The company was too small to need a "client/server" network with a separate server storing network information. Instead, using Artisoft's LANtastic product, the Swerdlows linked their PCs into a "peer to peer" network.

By the end of 1994, with eight employees, EBS reported sales of $500,000. The Swerdlows decided it was time to move the company from its start-up office in their basement and to switch to a more sophisticated network operating system.

The systems-integration company the Swerdlows employ highly recommended Novell NetWare 3.12. Because the upgrade would be costly, the Swerdlows sought a second opinion. That consultant gave a recommendation no less firm -- for Microsoft Windows NT Server 3.5. Thus began a several-month ordeal for the Swerdlows. They read computer magazines and talked to reporters, computer-industry clients, and clients of clients. The Swerdlows' conclusion: there are no easy answers -- but everyone will try to convince you his or hers is exactly the right solution. "You've got to gather all the information," says Brian Swerdlow. "Then make your own opinion."

The Swerdlows eventually chose the more expensive Novell system, for reasons specific to their Northbrook, Ill., company. Was it the right decision? Stay tuned.