While this is still a beta, I do have a few quibbles with Setup Manager: The option to install NT to the hard disk of your choice is unclearly hidden under an "Advanced" button in an early dialog box. The first time I tried to install NT, it tried to overwrite my 98 install on the C: drive. And there is no option, ala Windows 95/8 and NT 4.0, to do a custom install. As a result, the system installed a bunch of features I didn't want, including accessibility features, a fax program, games, and other similar drivel. Most damning here is that there is no way to remove this stuff once it's installed: The otherwise excellent Add/Remove Programs applet doesn't offer any way to remove these components. It's a minor irritation now, but if it ships this way, a lot of people are going to be upset. This kind of oversight is known as a regression bug: the newer product (NT 5.0) has removed a feature that was present in the previous (4.0) version.
Other than that, the Setup Manager is quite nice and it offers you two basic types of installation: Upgrade (over Windows 3.1, Windows 95/8, or NT 3.51/4.0) or Install. The second option will setup a dual-boot menu so you can boot between Windows NT 5.0 and whatever other operating systems you might already have installed. At this early stage in the beta, I do not recommend upgrading anything other than Windows NT 4.0 and even that may have complications. While NT 5.0 is extremely stable, I can't recommend wiping out a perfectly good OS just to use it. Go the dual-boot method (Install, not Upgrade) and all will be well, assuming you have an extra partition to install it to.
Aside from providing my name, a machine
name, my workgroup name, and an IP address (because my home network does
not use DHCP), the install proceeded with little input from me. About 30
minutes later, I was presented with the NT 5.0 login dialog box, and the
system was ready to go. After logging in, I got my first surprise: NT
5.0 automatically recognized my sound card! I don't know of anyone
who got NT 4.0 to automatically install their sound card, and maybe I'm
just a geek, but hearing the startup sound brought a smile to my face.
This has never happened before with NT. I took a quick look around the
Shell and decided that any existing Windows user will be quite at home
here. Let's take a look at the new features in the user interface.
User interface improvements
At first glance, the Windows NT 5.0 user interface is virtually identical to the one you're used to in Windows 95/8 and NT 4.0 (Picture). But it doesn't take long to realize that there are lots of little things that have changed, and while some of them may be disarming at first, it quickly becomes clear that there is a rhyme and reason to these changes. The Windows NT 5.0 user interface has been simplified, modified, and overhauled into a virtual work of art. All the features I've begged for have been added, as have some features I never knew I needed until I saw them. I won't dwell on any features that were added in Windows 98, though they are all here. Here's the run-down of new Windows NT 5.0 user interface features.
In late 1996, Microsoft took the first steps to correcting this problem with the development of the "Slate" management tool, which eventually became known as the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). The MMC made its debut in late 1997 with Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack, and it is fully integrated with Windows NT 5.0 as well. The NT 5.0 version of MMC is used to manage virtually every aspect of your system, from users, services, and events to disk management (including defragmentation) and system information.
Windows NT Workstation doesn't offer the wide array of management options that comes with Server, but the list is still quite impressive (Picture):
And by using a single management
console, Microsoft has made it easy to manage your system: No need to
hunt around for the right tool, just right-click My Computer and choose
Manage. What could be easier? And the MMC is configurable, so you can
make your own custom consoles. Let's say you use User Manager, Internet
Services, and Index Server a lot: Simply open a blank console, add those
plug-ins, and save a shortcut. Custom consoles are a snap! And perhaps
best of all, the MMC works over networks and the Internet so you can
manage remote sites as well.
Applications and applications management
Technically, this is a management topic, but the way Windows NT 5.0 handles applications and applications management is worthy of its own heading. Consider the old Windows 95/8/NT 4.0 way of installing and managing an application: You run the installation program, typically from a setup.exe file. The application installs itself on your computer and, hopefully, provides an entry for itself in Add/Remove Programs. If you'd like to modify the installation of the application later (add or remove components, or delete the whole thing), you visit Add/Remove programs, perform your change and hope it works. With this method, there are all kinds of problems: First of all, you have to hope the program "follows the rules" for Add/Remove Programs. Some applications let you add and remove components while others just remove the program when you choose it from Add/Remove programs. And then there's the "DLL hell" problem: Applications add older DLLs, screwing up other applications. Or when you uninstall the program, it actually asks you whether you want to keep certain DLLs or delete them. It's the software equivalent of Russian Roulette.
In NT 5.0, there's a new game in town.
While NT 5.0 will, of course, support the older method of installing
programs, Microsoft has created a new way to install programs and a new
Add/Remove Programs (Picture) to manage
this task. In the NT 5.0 world, Applications register themselves with the
system, which tracks any changes the application makes to DLLs and the
like. Windows NT 5.0 is smart enough to prevent programs from overwriting
newer DLLs and it will repair itself if an errant app does somehow manage
to screw something up. And the Add/Remove Programs applet, which is now
an HTML form, will give applications vendors a rich environment for
supporting its users, with a place to record support information,
including phone number, product ID, version number, and the like. What
this all adds up to is a kinder, gentler Windows. Obviously, we'll be
dealing with old-style apps for years to come, but Windows NT 5.0 is the
first step toward a total exorcism of this problem and it looks like
Microsoft is heading in the right direction.
With all this good news about Windows NT 5.0, you may be wondering why they don't just ship it. Well, it may look ready, but there is still some work to do under the hood. Because this is a beta release and not the final code, there are some (admittedly small) performance issues when you compare an NT 5.0 system with a similar Windows 98 or Windows NT 4.0 install. There are occasional small pauses when you click on a button or select a program from the Start Menu, for example.
Also, there are many types of hardware that aren't yet supported, including most scanners and digital cameras, USB devices (I tried a USB Connectix--now Logitech--Web camera, which NT 5.0 sees as a "Generic USB Printer" (Picture)), and Voodoo/Voodoo 2 video cards (these are the cards that you plug in alongside your existing PCI video card). ACPI power management in this release is limited to a very small number of chipsets, presumably because of problems in early releases. On my Pentium II 400, for example, Windows 98 can shut the system down completely, but Windows NT 5.0 Beta 2 gives me a "You may now shut down your computer" screen. Microsoft will support a much wider range of machines by Beta 3, I'm sure. And I had some curious problems trying to connect to IIS 5.0 from Visual InterDev until I read the release notes: There's a quickie work-around to this problem.
You're probably getting the idea that
none of these issues are huge, and you're right. It's a good sign when
you have to haggle over the small stuff.
Well, what can I say: I plan to use this operating system on a daily basis for some time to come, and I can't think of any higher praise than that. Unlike the clumsy misfire that was Beta 1, Windows NT 5.0 Beta 2 is, finally, a worthy owner of the NT name and a successful step into the future of computing. There isn't a single issue with this OS that qualifies as serious and it's certainly more stable than Windows 95/8. Whether it will prove to be more stable and robust when compared to Windows NT 4.0 is another story, and one that I will be unable to tell until I've spent more time with it. But my preliminary view of Beta 2 is nothing but good news: Microsoft has a serious winner on its hands. Kudos to the NT development team for a job well done.