Windows 2000 Release Candidate 1 (RC1) became available to RDP/JDP customers, technical beta testers, MSDN members, and Corporate Preview Program (CPP) customers in early July, bringing hundreds of thousands of Microsoft's customers that much closer to the final version of this milestone operating system. In addition to bug fixes and new drivers (such as native SB Live! and 3dfx Voodoo3 support), Windows 2000 RC1 also delivers a few new features.

Common to all Windows 2000 RC1 is a new fade effect that is applied to dragged icons (Figure 1) . Admittedly, it's confusing at first, but it's a cool effect: Basically, the farther that icons are from the mouse pointer, the more faded they are. If you're dragging enough icons, some of them will even disappear while you're dragging, which can be alarming. However, I think I understand the thinking here: When you're dragging many icons, it's easy to get lost because the icons are covering up the location on screen that you'd like to get to. By fading out the icons in this fashion, you're always assured to have plenty of screen real estate. Overall, I approve of this new effect, though it seems to be causing some performance degradation in this build.

Another small UI tweak occurs in network folders, which feature a small, expandable Online/Offline notification in the Web view pane (Figure 2) . This feature is handy for Offline Folder use and the expanded message shown in the Figure helps remind users that the feature is available.

Internet Explorer has been updated to version 5.01 in Release Candidate 1. IE 5.01 fixes the "New Window" bug I began reporting to the IE team almost two years ago, making me wonder what took them so long. I'm still waiting for my apology: I almost got kicked off the IE 5 beta for complaining about it so much, so I find the fact that it was quietly fixed in exactly the way I initially suggested humorous and pathetic. However, I'm also happy it works properly now, I almost don't care. Almost. Some of the other improvements to the Windows 2000 version of IE 5.01 are designed to let the browser work as efficiently as possible in the new environment. There haven't been any big changes to Outlook Express.

After that, there are some edition-specific improvements. Let's take a quick look...


Windows 2000 Professional
Broader Hardware and Software Support
Windows 2000 RC1 includes support for the full DirectX 7.0 (Beta 3 included only a subset of DX7) and NetMeeting 3.01, which has been updated to be compatible with Windows 2000 (Figure 3) . New hardware drivers, such as the aforementioned SB Live! and Voodoo3, as well as the ATI Rage 128, bring Windows 2000 up-to-date with the latest multimedia devices (Figure 4) . Microsoft says that it is also supporting over 40 new wireless LAN drivers, 25 new printers, and FireWire/IEEE 1394 digital cameras in RC1.

Windows 2000 Pro RC1 now supports upgrading Windows 98 Second Edition (SE) where Beta 3 did not. In fact, I wrote a review about this very subject.

Simplified User Interface
Microsoft has made small improvements in the user interface of Windows 2000, with clearer text in dialog boxes and error messages. And that annoying pop-up window that appeared after a network print job had completed has been turned off by default (that one used to drive me crazy; finding the manual way to turn it off is a nightmare).


Windows 2000 Server
More configurable setup
My complaints have been answered, and if you're looking for a feature that I'm almost literally personally responsible for, this is it: When you install or Add/Remove programs from the Server editions (Server, Advanced Server, and DataCenter server), you can now choose whether to install a wide range of features, including all of the Accessory items that were previously unavailable without a hack (See my Tech Showcase, Removing Windows components after installation , for more info). These components are listed under "Accessories and Utilities" during Setup and, later, in the Windows Component Wizard (Figure 5) .

Easier server administration
The two new administration tools that you'll be apt to use most frequently, Configure Your Server (Figure 6) and the Computer Management server administration tool (Figure 7) , have been simplified and made more clear.  

DNS management improvements
Two new features have been added to DNS management, DNS Aging and DNS Scavenging. DNS Aging works with Dynamic DNS to automatically deregister resources that are registered by a client but never released. DNS Scavenging allows an administrator to configure DNS to automatically scavenge/delete stale DNS records.

New Terminal Services Administration mode
This is another feature that is the direct result of my input to the Windows 2000 team (although to be fair in this case, many people eventually began requesting it as well; I was the first, however): When I first saw Terminal Services, I though, great, but this is most useful as a remote administration tool such as PC Anywhere (which, incidentally, wouldn't even run on Windows 2000 when I made this observation months ago). Well, Microsoft agreed (Figure 8) , and RC1 now sports two types of Terminal Services installations:
  • Remote administration mode - This is the new Terminal Services mode, which uses fewer resources and minimizes the impact on the Server. It also doesn't change the "focus" of the machine from one that runs background tasks more efficiently than applications.
  • Application server mode - The "traditional" Terminal Services mode, which allows users to remotely login and run applications such as Microsoft Office on the Server.  This mode changes the focus of the server to an Application server so that foreground applications run more efficiently than background tasks.

It isn't often that I  get to point at something in a product you beta tested and say, "hey, I had a big part in that." Like the optional "Accessories and Utilities" install mentioned above, however, this is one of those times.

Terminal Services has been improved in other ways as well. A new Terminal Services License Management (TSLM) tool enforces the use of TS client licenses. And Applications that use Windows Installer can now be installed remotely in a Terminal Services session, assuming the user has the proper security access.


Windows 2000 Advanced Server
Cluster Server improvements
Setup for Cluster Service has been simplified and doesn't require a restart. And Applications that use Named Pipes, such as SQL Server, will now fail-over correctly. I don't have an Advanced Server setup to test these features, however. 


Conclusion
Windows 2000 Release Candidate 1 (RC1) is a small step up from Beta 3, but that's to be expected. Bug fixes and new drivers are expected improvements in a release candidate, but some of the new features are quite welcome as well. Other changes, such as the new dragging icon fade effect, makes one wonder how they're spending their time over there in Redmond: This is a needless fluff feature that currently seems to bog down performance on my two Pentium II 400 systems, which both feature 256 MB of RAM. Almost certainly, this will be fixed in a future release, but it's annoying for now.

On a personal note, it's gratifying to see feature requests that I've personally made be implemented in the actual product. I've often accused Microsoft of not listening to their customers (my experiences on the Visual Studio 6.0 and IE 5.0 betas are just two recent examples of this) but the Windows 2000 team has been excellent in this regard. Though this project will stretch past the two year mark soon, the Windows 2000 team has been responsive throughout, willing to listen to customer requests and implement them when possible. There are many examples of this, other than the two I mention here (those, of course, are my personal favorites), but it's clear that Windows 2000 will indeed be the product that Microsoft's customers have been asking for.

And RC1 is that much closer to the realization of that promise. If you can grab a copy--through the Corporate Preview Program (CPP), MSDN, or the technical beta test--I strongly recommend checking it out.