The best of Windows 98 with none of the DOS
With Windows 98, Microsoft raised the bar of Windows 95 with an improved user interface and a host of small yet compelling new features that made the upgrade worthwhile. But the biggest reason to use Windows 98 is compatibility: Compatibility with all of the hardware and software on the planet. Windows 98 just works. And NT, for many people, was a non-issue because of its incompatibilities with both hardware and software. So a goal for Windows 2000 was to add "the best of" Windows 98 (an important phrase to remember, by the way) to NT. But "the best of" Windows 98 really only applies to business features.
Inevitably, the question will arise of whether Windows 2000 is an appropriate upgrade from Windows 98. The short answer to this question, alas, is no, although there will be exceptions. If you're using Windows 98 on a corporate network, for example, Windows 2000 makes sense. If you're using a Pentium II 300 or better with more than 64 MB of RAM, Windows 2000 may make sense assuming all of your hardware and software is compatible. And, most surprising of all, if you're a business user with a qualifying laptop (A Pentium II with at least 64MB of RAM) then Windows 2000 actually blows Windows 98 out of the water.
How is this possible? Windows NT 4.0 almost completely abandoned the mobile market because of its utter lack of support for power management and mobile hardware support. Well, Windows 2000 screams ahead with a vengeance, offering all of the excellent power management support from Windows 98 while adding support for the newer ACPI power management specification. Windows 2000 literally offers state of the art mobile support that surpasses Windows 98.
But it doesn't stop there. Looking at the way mobile users interact with data, Microsoft decided to make it easier for people to access network shares while they are disconnected from the network. Two features make this possible (and, frankly, easy to use): Offline folders and the Synchronization Manager. Here's how it works: Let's say you're a typical Dilbertesque mobile worker that needs access to data in one more network shares while the laptop is physically disconnected from the network (because of a business trip, or a telecommuting scenario). All you have to do is navigate to that resource, alternate-click and choose Make Available Offline. This launches the Offline Files Wizard, which steps you through the process (Figure 18). You can choose to synchronize the offline files automatically every time you log on and off the computer, or manually synchronize the files with the Synchronization Manager before the big trip (Figure 19). And the Wizard allows you to set up all kinds of options, such as offline reminders and desktop shortcuts to the offline resource (Figure 20). Sweet.
If you choose manual synchronization, you can launch the Synchronization Manager from the Tools menu in My Computer or Explorer (Figure 21). This dialog allows you to perform all kinds of setup changes as well. Very nice.
But Windows 2000's support for the best features of Windows 98 doesn't end there. Windows 2000 includes a Device Manager, Add/Remove Hardware Wizard, DirectX and OpenGL support, a new Backup program, a disk defragmenter (Figure 22), and a disk cleanup tool similar to the one in Plus! for Windows 98. Full support for Windows 98's FAT32 file system means an end to the agonizing file system incompatibilities between NT and 9x (well, 98 still can't read NTFS, but at least NT/2000 can now fully utilize FAT32). And because Windows 2000 technically supports all of the next-generation hardware--such as USB, IEEE 1394/FireWire, AGP, multiple monitors/video cards, DVD, and Device Bay--it's ready to go on the latest systems.
It's not all roses, of course. Windows 2000 doesn't support the WebTV for Windows feature from Windows 98. And at this time, hardware support for new Direct3D and Open GL video cards is spotty at best. I have a 12 MB Voodoo 2 card that isn't natively supported yet, so I'm forced to use the NT 4.0 drivers which don't give Direct3D support so many new games are out of the question. This situation will improve over time, however. There's no doubt that Windows 2000 will become a superset of Windows 98 with time. Right now, that's not the case. But it can only get better.
By using the phrase "the best of Windows 98," Microsoft has effectively shielded itself from incompatibility criticisms for the time being. Users of Windows NT will be delighted with the new Windows 98 features in Windows 2000. Windows 98 users--well---some of them are going to be disappointed. Especially if game playing and legacy hardware/software support are an issue (So don't even think about playing DOS games like Duke Nukem 3D in Windows 2000, for example. It ain't going to happen). But Windows 2000 does include the "best of Windows 98" from a business point of view, assuming we're talking about mobile computer support, power management, user interface niceties, system utilities, FAT32 file support, and other business-related improvements.
The power of Windows NT... obviously
Stating that the "power of Windows NT" is a feature of Windows 2000 may seem fairly obvious to someone computer literate, but to the world at large, "Windows 2000" sounds like an upgrade to Windows 98, not NT. But Windows 2000 inherits the core of Windows NT 4.0 while adding a host of new features. Because it's based on Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 is extremely reliable, virtually crash-proof, and scalable. But Windows 2000 starts with the best of NT, if you will, and takes it to the next level.
First of all, Windows 2000 benefits from three years of improvements to Windows NT 4.0 right out of the box. All of the security updates, bug fixes, and other subtle improvements that have come about in five service packs for Windows NT 4.0 are present in Windows 2000. So Windows 2000 is going to be the obvious platform of choice for developers, power users, engineers, high-end graphics users and anyone else that needs a reliable, secure, 24/7 operating system.
But Windows 2000 requires far fewer restarts than Windows NT 4.0: Microsoft identified 75 tasks in NT 4 that required a reboot (such as changing networking settings) vs. only 7 in Windows 2000. Folks, that's amazing. To test this, I changed IP addresses on my workstation, enabled and disabled Connection Sharing, and performed other networking related changes. Not a single restart. To an NT user, this is nothing short of miraculous.
Microsoft pushes the Windows Installer as a major new feature of Windows 2000, but this wonderful program certainly isn't present during Windows 2000's overly simple installation. Instead, we're treated to a hand's off install with absolutely no chance to perform a custom install without scripting it (I'll be explaining how to do a custom install both before and after completing a normal Windows 2000 installation in a future Technology Showcase. Update: My "Removing Windows components after installation" Technology Showcase is now available). This is clearly the most agonizing miscue in Windows 2000, and the one brain-dead mistake that the Windows 2000 team made in designing this product. But Windows Installer is built-in to Windows 2000, so future applications can take advantage of its wonders. I'll also be looking at Windows Installer in a future Tech Showcase.
Microsoft says that the performance of Windows 2000 Professional is better than Windows 98 on systems with 64MB or more of RAM. Don't believe it. Anyone that runs Windows 2000 on a 64 MB system (unless you run one application at a time) will notice a difference. But once you bump the RAM up to 128 MB (and use at least a Pentium II 300 processor), Windows 2000 clearly outshines Windows 98. And, for you power-hungry freaks out there, it also supports up to 4 GB of RAM and supports two microprocessors, unlike Windows 98.
Windows 2000 positively oozes with security features, something that's completely missing in Windows 98. And because Windows 2000 is secure from the ground up, with an Encrypted Filesystem (EFS) for local security, Kerebos for network security, Public key for Internet security, and smart card support for physical machine access security, Windows 2000 is the ultimate OS for anyone that's worried about data invasion. Windows NT has been battle-tested in the field with numerous security updates, and Windows 2000 promises to be even better.
One amazing new feature is the new System File Protection (SFP), which protects all SYS, DLL, EXE, and OCX files that ship with Windows 2000. This is a valiant (and successful) deterrent to "DLL hell" where an application you install simply overwrites key system files with its own--sometimes out of date--version. Windows 2000 prevents applications from doing this, while throwing up a reassuring dialog box explaining how it just saved the day. Folks, this thing works and it works great. Bravo.
Lower Total Cost of Ownership for mere mortals
The final goal for Windows 2000--lowering the total cost of ownership--is something that's been attacked from a variety of angles. The simple truth is that Windows networks are expensive to maintain and support, so Microsoft has added new technologies to Windows 2000 that makes it easier to deploy, install, manage, and support Windows 2000-based networks.
Indeed, the "feature" I
complained about in the previous section--the lack of a custom install--is
touted by Microsoft as a TOC feature, because it simplifies the
install while allowing massive sites to script custom installs. I
kind of see the point but have to wonder why the Windows Installer
isn't used to install Windows 2000 and why there isn't a command
line switch to trigger a custom install. Whatever: The Windows 2000
installation is hands free and you can still use the System
Preparation Tool (updated for Windows 2000) to manager massive identical installs.
Sometimes I feel alone when I complain about things like this
(Incidentally, I'll be covering the Windows 2000 install process in
my review of "Upgrading
Windows 98 and NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 Beta 3," which should
be done soon).
Using the incredible IntelliMirror technology, administrators can perform remote installation of Windows 2000 Professional workstations, and manage Windows 2000 networks like never before. These features require Windows 2000 Server as well, but you can perform policy-based deployments across network from a single location, allowing network roaming users to logon to any machine on the network and see all of their customized settings (desktop, color and sound schemes, Favorites, etc.) and easily replace desktop computers without losing any data. I'll be looking at IntelliMirror in a future Technology Showcase of course.
As far as upgrading goes, Microsoft says that migration from Windows NT and Windows 9x is "simple" but I'd add a few caveats. The Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 upgrade is virtually guaranteed, but upgrading Windows 9x to Windows 2000 could result in a bizarre Frankenstein's Monster OS, with dangling incompatible programs and utilities still cluttering up the system. The installation program will tell you which hardware and software will be out to lunch before it installs, however, a nice touch.
On the manageability front, we see a mixed bag. Certainly, Microsoft has done a lot to clean up the numerous Control Panel applets and administration tools (indeed, the admin tools are hidden by default in Windows 2000 Professional). But rather than truly fix the problem, Windows 2000 simply reshuffles the numerous applications you need to administer the OS effectively. I'll look at this more closely in my Server Beta 3 review but suffice to say that you'll be using "Manage this Computer" (Figure 23) more than you'd like.
On the good news front, however, is the way Microsoft will be handling service packs for Windows 2000. Unlike the ugly service pack install issues in Windows NT 4.0, administrators will be able to slipstream the updated files from service packs into the i386 install directory on a server, allowing them to maintain one master image of the OS that always has the latest bits. No more bizarre reinstallation of applications after applying a service pack. And service packs will be used solely to fix bugs, not add new features. Future Option Packs will be used to add functionality.
Finally, Microsoft has added a new boot-up diagnostic utility that is enabled by pressing F8 when the system starts. And like Windows 98, you can actually access a command line prompt at boot-up too, rather than have to boot into the GUI. Windows NT administrators have been asking for this feature for years.
Well, there's a lot of territory to cover when you talk about a major new OS release such as this and it's hard to do it the justice it deserves. But in the end, it's clear that Microsoft has done an incredibly good job of determining what people wanted upgraded in Windows NT 4.0 and then implemented those changes in a way that makes sense. Windows 2000 Professional isn't an OS for everyone--Game players with certain hardware configuration will find better hardware and software compatibility in Windows 98, for example, and legacy hardware is basically out of the running for an upgrade--but Windows 2000 excels in areas that Windows 98 can't even touch, such as security, reliability, and scalability.
In short, Windows 2000 Professional Beta 3 is the ultimate Windows desktop operating system for business users, mobile users, engineers, graphics artists, software developers, and power users. Its powerful new features are balanced with a simplicity and elegance not found in any previous version of Windows. I strongly recommend that anyone with the proper hardware (at least a PII 300 and 64 MB of RAM, and be sure to check the HCL for compatibility first) evaluate this operating system immediately.
Calling Windows 2000 Professional a triumph is an understatement. I'll be using Windows 2000 Professional Beta 3 as my day-to-day OS for the rest of the year and I suspect that you'll want to as well.