I spent a full week in mid-November locked in the mire of Windows 98 because we were going to use USB-based MP3 audio recorders at Comdex Fall 99 and Windows 2000 didn't support the devices we had acquired. So I installed Windows 98 SE on my trusty laptop and loaded up all the apps I use regularly. The weekend before the show, however, we decided to can that idea and just take notes like the old days, but by that time I was ready to rip Windows 98 off my system for good anyway: After using Windows 2000 Professional for more six straight months now, I've come to love the little improvements it brings to the Windows user interface. So after a week with Windows 98, I came up with this list of things I missed most from Windows 2000. This stuff if purely user interface related, from a user's standpoint; I don't discuss esoteric topics such as the NT kernel or whatever. But when it comes to actually using Windows, this where Windows 2000 Professional really kicks butt.

So, in the grand tradition of David Letterman, here is the top 10 reasons that Windows 2000 is better than Windows 98:

10. Global folder options
This is the sort of "set it and forget it" stuff I love. I don't want Web view, ever. In Windows 98, this is a hassle, because I have to turn it off one folder at a time, even after I tell it that I don't want it. But Windows 2000 has a global Folder Options setting: You turn off Web view and it stays off. I think I sprouted one new gray hair every time I opened a folder in Windows 98 and saw Web view because of this stupidity.

9. Keyboard shortcuts in applets
Even the little things, programs such as Notepad, are much nicer in Windows 2000. Like most Windows users, I use Notepad daily for a variety of tasks and the version in Windows 2000 actually lets you use keyboard shortcuts such as CTRL+S ("save") that are unavailable in Windows 98 for some stupid reason. I'd be hitting CTRL+S, wondering why the system was honking at me. Right, I forgot: Because it's inferior.

8. CTRL + ALT + DEL that actually works
Let's face reality here: Applications crash. Take Internet Explorer, please. Or Visual Studio 6.0 (yes, especially with SP3). I'll be browsing around the Web with multiple Web pages open and --BANG!-- the system hangs. In Windows 2000, this is no problem: Just hit CTRL+ALT+DEL and a window full of options appears. Instantly. In Windows 98, you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes nothing. Sometimes a list of tasks to stop, that doesn't usually work anyway. Sometimes your system just reboots. It stinks. 

7. Task Manager
Speaking of which, the availability of an actual Task Manager in Windows 2000, like NT 4.0 before it, is a huge win over Windows 98. Let's take our previous scenario, where an application has hung the system: Hit CTRL+ALT+DEL, select Task Manager and choose End Task. It ends the task! And it does it immediately, no muss, no fuss. How's that for living up to its description?  Meanwhile, over in Windows 98, I'll be rebooting the system at least half of the time.  I love the Task Manager.

6. My Documents
Even My Documents is nicer in Windows 2000. Despite the fact that the document-centric user interface has fallen flat on its face, Microsoft moves forward in Windows 2000 by making My Documents, not My Computer, the top of the shell namespace. The distinction is subtle, yet important: When you open an Explorer window, your documents are what's open, not a view of the file system. For new users especially, this makes much more sense. For someone like me (that is, a "writer"), I need this kind of quick access to my documents. I just wish that the rest of the world would see the light.

5. Personalized Start Menu
I didn't think I was going to like it at first (Indeed, in my August 1998 assessment of Windows NT 5.0 Beta 2, I hesitatingly tried the feature, sure I was going to eventually turn it off), but the Personalized Start Menu actually works. In fact, I strongly recommend that all Windows users give this feature a chance before coldly turning the feature off: The Start Menu can easily grow into a confused mess and this feature nicely organizes it into a shorter list of the programs you actually do use. It's great. However, applying this technology to the Favorites menu in Internet Explorer was a huge mistake: Favorites are documents, not programs, and the system should never hide documents. If you saved a Favorite in your Favorites menu, it should show up. Hell, you specifically put it there. In this case, the system does not know best.

4. Uncluttered system views
I've been using Windows 2000 for so long now, I've gotten used to its cleaned-up and uncluttered system views, such as the minimalist root of My Computer, which displays only drives and a Control Panel folder. Meanwhile, the Windows 98 My Computer root is a mess of icons, including the aforementioned few along with Printers, Dial-up Networking, Scheduled Tasks, Web Folders, and others, depending on your configuration. Less is more, indeed.

3. Scheduled Tasks
In Windows 98, you get a Scheduled Tasks icon in your tray notification area ("tray") whether you use it or not, with no way to turn it off. In Windows 2000, the Scheduled Tasks applet is handled more elegantly, as a front-end to the Task Scheduler and AT services. And there's no stupid icon either. Again, another case of a little thing making a big difference: The Windows 2000 user interface is just cleaner (and dare I say it, "simpler") because of this.

2. Offline Files and Folders
Most of the items in this top 10 list are in no particular order, but the top two are clearly the ones I appreciate the most. As a mobile user, I dock my laptop at my home network and access over 40 GB of data space over the network. But when I'm on the road, it's just me and the laptop, so I need some kind of feature that lets me bring documents with me and synch them up with the network originals when I return. In Windows 98, this meant using the Briefcase feature, which worked but was kind of half-baked, since everything was a manual operation. In Windows 2000, we have the elegant and powerful Offline Files and Folders feature, which is a technological tour-de-force. Even when I'm on the road, I have access to the network documents (or anything else) that I've marked as available offline. And I access them the same way I would if I were connected to the network. It's wonderful. And when I log on and off of the network, my files are synchronized automatically. This is easily the most wonderful mobile computing feature in any version of Windows and a clear reason why almost all mobile users should upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional. I salute those who came up with this solution. 

1. Open With
I use a variety of image management programs, including LView Pro, PicaView32, and yes, Microsoft Paint. Sometimes I want to open a GIF in Paint, for example, so I can quickly edit it, but I've got that file type associated with LView Pro. In Windows 98, it's a major pain in the butt: I have to select the icon of the image file, hold down the SHIFT key, right-click the icon, choose "Open With" and then select Paint from the list of applications in the dialog that appears. And I have to do this every single time I want to open an image in Paint. In Windows 2000, this process is amazingly more easy. First of all, the "Open With" option is a standard choice on the right-click menu, so I don't have to go through the convoluted "hold down the SHIFT key first" scenario I mention above. You simply right-click the image file, choose "Open With" and then select Paint from the dialog box, as before. But this is where Windows 2000 really shines: Once I've done this, an "Open with Microsoft Paint" choice is added to the right-click menu for that file type. I never have to go through this process more than once! The same is true of all documents, so if you like to use Word and WordPerfect, or whatever, Windows 2000 makes it easy. Now if they could only figure out a way to assign an application to files with no extension, Windows will truly be world-class when it comes to handling documents. In the meantime, I'll take this feature any day: It puts Windows 98 to shame. 

Final thoughts
One thing that's particularly embarrassing for me is to go back and read my earlier review of Windows 98, written at a time when Windows 2000 (then NT 5.0) wasn't in any state to use on a daily basis. It's amazing what you can accept when there aren't any alternatives, but now that Windows 2000 is here (at least in beta and RC form), I'll never go back: Windows 98 is a joke, both from a stability and user interface standpoint. OK, maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but months of Windows 2000 use have raised my standards dramatically and there's no way I'll ever go back. I suspect that this will be the case for the vast majority of people that use Windows 2000 as well. Sure, there are problems (why does it take to long to boot and so long to come out of Standby, for example?) but Windows 2000 makes Windows 98 look sick.