Generally speaking, you need to spend time with any operating before you fully understand its weaknesses and strengths. While most people will probably accept default settings and gear themselves toward changing the way they work to suit the operating system, power users will change the OS--as well as they can--to match their working style. Like many so-called power users, I have a set routine I go through each time I install Windows (and reinstall, and reinstall because of the numerous betas I'm on). For example, when I install Windows 98, I delete Online Folders from the desktop, Start menu, and Program Files. Then, I install TweakUI so it logs in automatically. The list goes on. If I had the time, I suppose, I could just write a huge WSH script file to handle this all automatically.

You know, some day.

In my month-long experience with Windows NT 5.0, however, I've tried to retain the default settings (for the most part; I've changed the font size of desktop icons and some other small things) in an attempt to live with NT 5.0 the way Redmond intended. It's taken some strength, believe me. At first, I wanted to throttle Personalized Menus and never see them again, but now, a month later, I miss them if I have to go down to Windows 98 to use my scanner or take screenshots for a book. Windows NT 5.0 Beta 2 is like that: The sum of its features--however small individually--really grows on you.

So here it is a month after I've installed the beast. I've been focusing on the Workstation release for now (indeed, I still haven't installed Server) in an attempt to really get a feel for it. And as such, I've installed the programs I normally use (and some I don't ever use; I think we all know how that goes) so I'd like to share some observations about how Windows NT 5.0 works as a replacement for current versions of Windows (95, 98, or NT 4.0). Specifically, I'm going to take a look at the programs I've installed and determine whether they work in NT 5.0 at all and, if so, how well.


But first, some hardware notes

If you've read my review of Windows NT Workstation 5.0 Beta 2, you might be familiar with my experiences installing this release. NT 5.0 found most of my hardware, with a few exceptions, including a USB video camera (the Connectix QuickCam VR). Since installing NT 5.0, I've added Microsoft's SideWinder Pro Force Feedback joystick, which appears to work fine. And while I don't use this keyboard usually, I did attach the USB version of the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite briefly and this worked too. I attempted to attach a parallel port scanner, a STORM ImageWave, but it won't work. It does work great in 98, however, so I'm forced to boot into 98 now and then when I want to scan something.

The weirdest thing with my hardware, however, has to be my Creative Labs 12 MB Voodoo 2 video card. This card "piggy-backs" to a regular video card and provides stunning 3D images in OpenGL/Glide and Direct 3D-supported games like Quake II and Unreal. This is the one item in Device Manager that throws NT 5.0 for a loop: It knows its there, but the card isn't natively supported by NT 5.0. You can install the NT 4.0 drivers, but nothing appears to happen. Later, I found out that it really did install, so I started adding games to see how it worked. Sure enough, it works great. Microsoft is aware of problems with these Voodoo 2 cards and is, apparently, working on it. Of course, the companies that make the cards will, no doubt, create their own NT 5.0-specific drivers as well.

Other than that, my system is a standard PC: A Dell Dimension XPS400R 400 MHz Pentium II with 128 MB RAM, 6.4 GB and 5.1 GB EIDE hard drives, an 8 MB Diamond FireGL 1000 Pro AGP video card, a CD-ROM, a floppy, a 21" Trinitron monitor, Creative Labs AWE32 sound card, and a 3Com Fast Etherlink Network Interface Card (NIC). The machine is connected to my NT server via TCP/IP and a Linksys hub; the server communicates to the outside world via a cable modem. My wife's machine, incidentally, is a Windows 98 box (and no, I don't touch it. Ever). We also have a HP LaserJet on the network and other computers are occasionally connected, but this is the main setup.


Let's add some software
Looking over the image to the right, you can see that I've added an assortment of applications, games, and utilities.

Office 97
One of the first things I do when I install Windows is add Office 97, which is, in many ways, an upgrade to the operating system itself. I'm not sure if this is true of Windows NT 5.0 anymore, but no doubt Office 2000 will pick up the slack when its released next year. Office has the annoying habit of installing the icons for its programs right in the root of the Programs menu rather than creating a "Microsoft Office" group. Generally, I created this group manually, but, again, in an attempt to work with this system inside of the Redmondian guidelines, I've abstained. One nod to customization, however: I placed icons for the programs I use the most often on top of the Start menu. As a result, the Personalization Menus feature in NT 5.0 hid the Office-generated icons within the Programs menu a few weeks later because I never access them. In other words, I achieved the same result as I would have had I created the group. All of the Office applications run flawlessly under Windows NT 5.0 and I've added both the SR-1 and SR-2 patches without problem.

Adobe Acrobat
I'm not a big fan of Adobe, but I need a PDF viewer and, well, they make the thing. It works great.

Apache Web Server
This is a recent addition and I haven't actually gotten it to work yet, but I'm pretty sure it's not NT's fault: I already have Internet Information Services 5.0 (Microsoft's Web server) running on this system and I think there may be a conflict because of that. I haven't had time to investigate this.

America Online
AOL's new 4.0 client software installed flawlessly but the Internet Web browser refuses to load Web pages. I'm aware of other NT 5.0 Beta 2 users having the same problem, so it's probably related to Internet Explorer 5.0.

Collage Complete
This is a Win32s application (read: 16-bit) that I use to take screenshots for books. Well, I did before NT 5.0 anyway: It refuses to work. When I attempt a screenshot, I get the lovely dialog shown here. Not much of choice, is it? Oddly enough, the graphics program I use the most often is an older version of LView Pro (not the grossly indulgent 2.0 version) and it works fine though it, too, is a Win32s app. Weird.

Microsoft Games
I installed a couple of Microsoft games, including Golf 1998 and Monster Truck Madness 2. Both work fine, and yes, MTM2 supports the Force Feedback Joystick and Voodoo 2 card quite nicely. There is one (major) glitch in MTM2, however: When you exit the game, it returns the screen to the right resolution, but using a 60 Hz refresh rate. Ugh. Fortunately, you can set it back from Display Properties, but it's annoying.

Visual Studio 6.0
Despite a couple of annoying dialogs during setup, Microsoft's Visual Studio 6.0 Enterprise Edition installed and runs perfectly. I use Visual InterDev and Visual Basic on a daily basis without any issues at all. I also installed Visual C++, though I rarely use it. I wouldn't touch FoxPro or J++ with your, however, so I don't have information about those applications.

Windows NT 5.0 Resource Kit
The CD-ROMs for Windows NT 5.0 Beta 2 (Server and Workstation) include an option Resource Kit (RK) install, which I did install (off the Server version, just in case: Server generally offers a superset of the Workstation functionality). I don't know if this is a full version of the RK or just a sampler, but it appears to include many tools. Yes, it works fine, as far as it goes, but most of the tools in the MMC-hosted RK (Picture) are actually command line tools, so you can't really run them from the MMC. Attempting to do so generates that quickie command line we've all seen in NT where you can just barely see that it's looking for some command line options. And then the window closes. Nice feature, Microsoft.

Microsoft SQL Server
I installed two versions of SQL Server on this machine--sort of. For SQL Server 6.5, I only installed the client utilities so that I could access a remote SQL Server for a Web project I'm working on. I did install the Enterprise edition of SQL Server 7.0 Beta 3, however, and it works great locally. The setup wasn't smart enough to realize that my SQL Server 6.5 install was only the client utilities, so it installed the "switch" program that is designed to let you switch between 6.5 and 7.0 on the fly. I guess it would be a nice feature if I actually had 6.5 installed.

Games
I've installed several games to test the Voodoo 2 video card including GLQuake, Quake II, Unreal, and the demo for a new game called Sin (think Duke Nukem 3D with Quake II-level graphics). All of these games run flawlessly under Windows NT 5.0 and, as far as I can tell, just as fast as they do under Windows 98. For example, I can get over 90 FPS in GLQuake at 640x480. One weirdism that seems to affect only GLQuake: Unless I specify the -nojoy option in the command line when I start the program, NT tries to redetect and reinstall my Force Feedback joystick every time I play Quake. Other than that, I haven't seen any incompatibilities (at least anything that didn't happen in 98: Most OpenGL/Glide games seem to wreak havoc with the windows I have open on the desktop, forcing them into the lower-right of the screen).

Windows NT Services for UNIX Beta 2
Though I know that a vastly superior NT 5.0-specific version of this package is coming eventually, I decided to install this version on NT 5.0 just to see how it worked. I installed the full package less the NFS stuff and, sure enough, it works great. I wish I could figure out how to customize the window size of the default UNIX Shell window (Picture), but otherwise it works as advertised.

Netscape Communicator
I've installed Netscape Communicator 4.06 and 4.5 PR2 and, yes Virginia, they really do work quite well. Nuff said.

Leech FTP, CuteFTP
I use CuteFTP for my daily downloading, though I've been trying to get into LeechFTP because it was an incredible ability to multithread, allowing you to keep moving around on an FTP site after you've started a download. Anyway, both programs work fine.



Conclusion

I don't mean to suggest that the way I use Windows or the programs that I use are in any way typical. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't; I suspect many users will have equally happy results, while others will find all kinds of incompatibilities I've never run into. Still, as a developer and writer, I use a wide gamut of applications that, in many ways, is a good test of the OS. Overall, I'm quite happy with Windows NT 5.0 and have been using it on a daily basis almost exclusively (again, with the exception of scanning and some screenshots for a book). Over this past month, I've watched with some interest as NT detected my usage habits and began personalizing my Start menu. I've added and removed some programs recklessly, to see whether NT would handle the almost arbitrary way install programs decided to add and remove key system DLLs.

So far so good.

To be honest, I expected to have to return to Windows 98 or, at the very least, have to reinstall NT 5.0 by now. Neither has happened, of course, though I got close once: After uninstalling Office 97 and deleting the Microsoft Office directory from Program Files, Outlook 98 would start and run, but it wouldn't get my email. I reinstalled Office but then my system went bonkers, hanging when I clicked the Start button or navigated to certain points in the Shell. I reran the NT setup as a last resort, and without a single prompt, NT reinstalled itself, keeping all my settings and returning the system to a usable state. Granted, no one should have to go through a full system reinstall, but this is about as painless as they come.

Over the next few months, I'll be interested to see how NT evolves. Rumors are circulating as I write this that NT 5.0 might actually be released in Spring 1999, months earlier than anticipated. In many ways, I could see this happening: There are very few problems that I can find, and none are major. As far as application compatibility goes, everything looks good from here.