Faster, smarter, simpler: Each release of Windows trumpets its prowess to the world, and eager buyer snatch up millions of copies every single month. It's a seemingly never-ending cavalcade of upgrades and we've become so used to it that it's hard, sometimes, to remember a system that didn't need to be upgraded so often. Windows 2000, specifically the end-user oriented Professional Edition, seeks to end all that. And this first step toward an eventual nerdvana of automatic upgrades is, quite possibly, the last version of NT you'll ever need to buy in a retail store and install with a CD-ROM.

We'll see how quickly the future Windows delivery systems arrive. But in the meantime, we're pretty much stuck with manual installation of the operating system. And with Windows 2000, the past (NT 4.0) is married with the future (Neptune) in ways that are sometimes pleasing, sometimes aggravating. The installation process is a wonderful example of this dichotomy.

There are three basic ways to install Windows 2000 Professional:

  • "Fresh install" - Windows 2000 is installed as the only operating system on a formatted or empty hard drive. 
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  • Dual boot - Windows 2000 is installed alongside another operating system (typically Windows 98 or Windows NT 4.0) in a dual-boot scenario where the user is given a menu of OSes to choose from when the system boots up. Applications will need to be installed separately for Windows 2000, and the OS must be installed on a separate hard drive or partition from the existing OS.
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  • Upgrade - Windows 95, 98, or NT 4.0 is upgraded to Windows 2000, effectively swapping the old operating system for the new one, but leaving most applications intact. 

In this showcase, I will be focusing on a clean install of Windows 2000 Professional. However, I have already examined the Windows 2000 upgrade in my review, "Upgrading Windows 98 SE to Windows 2000 RC1." And I will be covering the dual boot process in a future technology showcase.

Preparing the hard drive for Windows 2000
To install Windows 2000, you'll need to first prepare the hard drive for Windows 2000. There are two ways to do this: Using the four setup floppies supplied by Microsoft, or using a Windows 9x boot floppy. If you have any version of Windows 9x lying around, I recommend this approach because its faster. And make sure you've got a copy of SMARTDRV.EXE ("SmartDrive") on the boot floppy: It's a must.

The first step, then, involves booting the system with the boot floppy. If you're using a Windows 98 floppy, do not enable CD-ROM support. When the command prompt comes up, use FDISK to create one or more partitions on the hard drive. Then, reboot the system, choose CD-ROM support if you are using a Windows 98 boot floppy, and format the hard drive (at least the C: drive) from the command line. When this is complete, SYS the C: drive so it boots: While this isn't always necessary, on several occasions I've seen the Windows 2000 install process halt because it couldn't boot the C: drive during the first reboot.

Windows 2000, like Windows NT, needs to copy a slew of small files to the hard drive so that it can install. And anyone who has installed Windows NT without using SmartDrive will tell you that this process can take hours. So, execute SMARTDRV from the command line and then switch over to the CD-ROM volume (typically drive E: on a single hard drive system as the D: drive will be temporarily taken up by the Windows 98 boot floppy RAM disk). CD into the /i386 folder and run winnt.exe from the command line.

Hold your breath, we're going in.

Windows 2000 setup, part one: MS-DOS mode
If you've never seen it before, the wonderfully retro first stage of the Windows 2000 setup is a DOS-based program that's been around since the early days of Windows NT. Generally, you use the ENTER key to move forward through the program and F3 to exit at any time.

The first step asks you to identify the location of the Windows 2000 files: This will be E:\i386 by default (Figure 1). If the location is correct, and there is enough free hard drive space (approximately 250 MB of free space is required, according to Microsoft, though you'll want at least 500 MB for a base install), the setup program will copy approximately 145 MB of Windows 2000 setup files off the CD-ROM and onto your system. The reasons for this seemingly meaningless step are now lost in the arcana of time, but basically Windows 2000, like Windows NT 4.0 before it, needs to have certain files on the local system before it reboots, because of the possibility that the drive letter designation for the i386 folder will change before it enters the GUI portion of setup.  That Windows 2000 is not yet smart enough to understand that this is a local install and not require this step is, shall we say, quaint.  OK, actually, it's retarded.

Once the files are copied, the MS-DOS portion of setup completes and you are asked to restart your computer (Figure 2).  Eject the boot floppy and press ENTER to restart.

Windows 2000 setup, part two: Text mode
When the system reboots, Windows 2000 takes control and examines the PC's hardware (Figure 3). Then, a second seemingly MS-DOS-based setup program launches that looks essentially identical to the first part of setup (Figure 4).  Don't be fooled, however: This portion of setup actually uses the Windows 2000 kernel and is a pseudo-Windows 2000 text mode system (Figure 5).

Windows 2000 setup asks you whether you'd like to install Windows 2000, repair an existing Windows 2000 installation, or exit setup (Figure 7). The second choice can be used in a variety of situations to perform emergency operations when, say, your system won't boot. If you overwrite the Windows 2000 boot files, for example, you'll want to repair the installation this way. Of course, for our purposes here, the first option is correct. Press ENTER to continue.

The Windows 2000 End-User Licensing Agreement (EULA) appears next (Figure 8). In Windows NT 4.0, Microsoft actually required you to PAGE DOWN to the end of the agreement before you could get past this screen, an obvious attempt to try and ensure that you actually read the damn thing. Few people do, of course, and in Windows 2000 you can simply proceed from here without paging down. You do this by pressing F8, not ENTER as usual. No, I don't know why.

The next step shows you the partitions and free space that are available on the system (Figure 9). You can choose a partition to install to, create a new partition out of free space, or delete a partition so that you can later create a different partition. Since we've created a single partition and formatted it (with FAT32, incidentally, if you used Windows 98 to perform the format), we can simply accept the default selection here and press ENTER to move on.  But its conceivable that you'll be spending some time here if you've got a few partitions.

In the next step, you are asked whether you'd like to convert the installation partition to NTFS or leave it intact (that is, leave the partition formatted as FAT32). The choice is up to you, but most single-system users will not need any of the features in NTFS, which is designed for corporations: If you're going to be using Windows 2000 at home, choose to keep FAT32, which runs faster than NTFS (Figure 10). If you do choose to convert to NTFS, incidentally, the conversion will take place the next time the system reboots.

Next, Windows 2000 examines the hard drive partitions on your system (Figure 11). This never takes more than a few seconds, contrary to the warning Microsoft provides. When this is complete, Windows 2000 setup copies the remaining files that will be needed by the GUI portion of setup to follow (Figure 12). The files that are copied are based on the basic hardware detection that was performed during the first reboot, so these files are somewhat system-specific (that is, if you have SCSI hardware, SCSI drivers will be provided). When the files are copied, setup will automatically reboot your system (Figure 13).

Windows 2000 setup, part three: GUI mode
At this point, you've got a bare Windows 2000 system installed, one that is designed to finish the installation process and provide you with a fully-functioning operating system. When your system reboots, you will be prevented by the same boot sequence you will see every time you boot Windows 2000 in the future: First, a text-based progress bar with the text "Starting Windows 2000" appears (Figure 14). As the progress bar inches across the screen, your hardware is being detected, though there is no mention of this onscreen. In Windows NT 4.0 and earlier beta releases of Windows 2000, this process was indicated by a similar text screen showing a series of dots appearing as devices were found. Microsoft felt that this wasn't necessarily obvious, so a few new variations were tested during the Windows 2000 beta and the company eventually settled on this design. I still don't understand why Microsoft doesn't just say "Windows 2000 is detecting your hardware..." because the current boot process claims that Windows 2000 is starting in three separate screens and windows, which is a bit monotonous and disingenuous.

No matter: Once your hardware is detected, a graphical boot screen is displayed with yet another progress bar that marches across the screen next to the text "Starting up..." (Figure 15).  This screen also features a curious pulsating bar, similar to the one used in Windows 9x, that is supposed to indicate that something is happening. If that's the case, I don't see a reason for the progress bar at all, which invariably pauses for about 10-20 seconds on most systems when it hits the 60% point. After this, the GUI mode portion of setup springs to life via a low-res backdrop (Figure 16) and, after a final wait (Figure 17), the Windows 2000 Setup Wizard appears (Figure 18).

Oddly, the first dialog displayed by the Wizard will disappear automatically after a few seconds, dumping you into one of several monotonous phases of setup: device installation. During this tedious phase, during which the screen will flicker, temporarily fade to black, and sometimes jump around like a Mexican jumping bean, the Windows 2000 Setup Wizard will thoroughly detect every single hardware device (COM ports, serial ports, joysticks, keyboards, whatever) on your system (Figure 19). If drivers exist for these devices, they will be copied into your installation. Depending on your setup, this process could take a long time, up to half an hour, though this has been improved dramatically since Beta 2 and the subsequent interim releases from a year ago.

 

Windows 2000 setup, part three: GUI mode (continued)
Once the tedious hardware detection phase is complete (Figure 20), it's time to move ahead to the interactive portion of setup where the Windows 2000 Setup Wizard will prompt you for various tidbits of information in the next few steps.

First up is Regional Settings (Figure 21): This step allows you to configure how numbers, currencies and dates are configured and displayed in Windows 2000. There is also an option for customizing your keyboard layout, so that non-U.S. English keys and keystrokes can be supported.

In the next step, the curiously titled Personalize Your Software (Figure 22), you are asked to supply a name (required) and an organization (optional). This information is, of course, used throughout Windows and is supplied to application setup programs later on. So this probably isn't a good place to type "Howdy Doody" or whatever.

The next step is, quite possibly, one of the most important in all of setup, especially if you are going to be connecting this system to the Internet (Figure 23). Like Windows NT 4.0 before it, every Windows 2000 system requires an Administrator account (which is appropriately named "Administrator") because of the underlying security subsystem. This account gets full access to all of the capabilities of the operating system and is unique to the local machine. Administrator is the equivalent of the root account in UNIX in that Microsoft expects users to create a standard user account for day-to-day use and not use Administrator for this purpose. Of course, many people on both UNIX and Windows NT have refused to see the wisdom of this situation, opening their system to potential security problems, so Microsoft has implemented an interesting (yet insecure) workaround for Windows 2000 Professional that we'll see in just a bit. In the meantime, be sure to enter a sufficiently unobvious password for the Administrator account: This is your first line of defense in the online world we now live in. This step also allows you to enter a name for the machine: I'm not sure why Microsoft even attempts to supply a semi-randomly generated name, as I don't know of anyone, anywhere, that has ever used the name they suggest.

In the next step, you supply the date, time, and time zone (Figure 24). The date and time are pre-supplied by the system BIOS and will generally be correct. The time zone, however, defaults to Pacific Time (guess what time zone Microsoft is in?) rather than the time zone of, say, their biggest number of customers or Greenwich Mean Time, either of which makes far more sense. There's another small bug in this dialog that I've been complaining about since February 1998 but Microsoft has never fixed it: The Arizona Time Zone is incorrectly located between Mountain and Central, rather than between Pacific and Mountain where it belongs. As a former resident of Arizona (I recently moved back to Massachusetts) this drives me nuts. More infuriating: Once you've installed Windows 2000, the Date and Time applet in Control Panel correctly locates AZT: Why is different?

After this, your networking settings are installed (Figure 25). By default, Windows 2000 installs Client for Microsoft Networks, File and Printer Sharing, and the "Internet Protocol" (what the rest of the planet calls TCP/IP). You can accept these services and protocols and their defaults (for example, TCP/IP is set up to automatically receive its IP address and other data from a DHCP server) or configure custom settings (Figure 25b). The custom settings option isn't as scary as the dialog suggests: It simply fills in the default settings and allows you to modify them as needed.

Once you've chosen and configured your network settings, you must tell Windows 2000 whether this system is part of a workgroup (which you should also choose if it's a standalone machine) or a domain (Figure 26). In Windows 2000, the domain concept has been extended a bit but the theory is still the same as it was in NT 4.0: If you're not sure what to choose, you're probably going to want to use a workgroup. In a corporate setting, check with your system administrator for details.

Now that the interactive portion of the GUI setup is complete, the Windows 2000 Setup Wizard will enter another monotonous phase where it installs "the components," which is an odd way of saying that it is installing the files that make up the operating system (Figure 27). This phase of setup takes a long time while providing minimal feedback, but the next step (Figure 28) is even worse: during the so-called "final tasks," Setup installs Start Menu items, registers components, saves settings, and removes any temporary files that were created during Setup. It's time consuming and boring: This is a good time to grab a bite to eat or catch up on some reading.

When this step is complete, however, it's time to reboot into your new operating system. The Windows 2000 Setup Wizard prompts you to remove the CD-ROM from the drive (which isn't strictly necessary on a non-SCSI systems unless your computer is set up to boot up from CD without prompting you) and then press "Finish" to reboot the system (Figure 29).

First boot
When the system restarts, you'll be presented with the same series of start-up screens as you saw in the last reboot and then the "Windows is starting up..." and "Configuring network...." dialogs you should see each time you boot the system (Figure 30). But this first boot into Windows 2000 Professional includes an extra step that will not be repeated again: The Network Identification Wizard begins (Figure 31), giving you the option to setup a default non-Administrator user account.

I mentioned above the need for just about anyone to create a regular user account with non-Administrative capabilities. This should be done, basically, to protect the user from themselves. It sounds a bit harsh, but if you are constrained from performing certain operations, you can't easily screw up your system. On the other hand, since you do know the Administrator password, you can easily logout, login as the Administrator, and then perform those operations that aren't allowed on your user account. Windows 2000 also introduces a new "run as user" feature that allows you to run applications under the security settings of another user, including the Administrator. And you can do this without logging out first, which is nice.

Regardless, the Windows 2000 Network Identification Wizard gives you two options: You can require all users to log on to the system or assume that the same user is always logging on when the system starts (Figure 32). Let's examine these choices. The first choice is identical to the way Windows NT 4.0 works: The first time the system boots, you login as Administrator and, hopefully, create at least one other user account. Then, you logout and login as that user and begin installing applications and configuring the system.

But Windows 2000 Professional presents a second option (which is the default, oddly), which allows you to assume that a certain user is always logged on. In the drop down list user names, you will see a list that is built one of two ways: If you have connected to a domain, the Wizard will supply a list of the users on the domain. You choose a user name, supply the password, and move on. If Windows 2000 is installed on a standalone machine or on a workgroup, the list will comprise of only two choices: Administrator and a new account that was built from the name you entered earlier (Paul Thurrott, in my case). If you choose to accept the name it supplies, you will need to enter a password to continue. I highly recommend against choosing Administrator and I highly recommend against accepting the name it creates: Instead, choose the first option and continue (Figure 33). This accomplishes two goals: It requires you to at least login every time you turn on the system, which is a basic security procedure, and it behooves you to create a user account as I've described above.

The only instance I can see where it would make sense to let Windows log you in automatically is on a standalone machine that doesn't ever connect to the Internet or any other network. In other words, you should never do this.

At this point, the wizard completes (Figure 34) and you will be asked to login to the Administrator for the first time (Figure 35), unless of course you opted out of this option during the Network Identification Wizard phase. Once you enter the correct password, you will be logged in and the system will load your personal settings (Figure 36) and display the desktop. I realized I've hammered this to death, but at this point you really need to create a normal user account. That's a topic for another day, but the short description of this operation goes like this: Right-click My Computer, choose Manage, and then expand the Local Users and Groups node in Computer Management. Right-click Users and choose New User.

Final notes
One thing that isn't provided in Windows 2000 Setup is the ability to choose which optional components to install. This very basic feature is available during the install of Windows NT 4.0, Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows 98 Second Edition: I have no idea why it was left out of Windows 2000 Professional. During the Windows 2000 beta, I repeatedly complained about this omission to Microsoft and they actually added this capability to Server and Advanced Server during the RC1 timeframe (July 1999). I'm not sure why Professional users were excluded, and I think this is a huge mistake. You can find out the secret to adding and removing optional components after installation in my technology showcase, Removing Windows components after installation, however. You can also provide these choices during setup by scripting a custom install of Windows 2000, but this is beyond the capabilities of most individual users, of course. The easiest course of action, then, is to simply install Windows 2000 Professional as described here, create a user account, login to that account, and then and then add and remove components as desired. It's not the way it should be, but it works.