When it comes to actually sitting down and using Windows 2000, the design mantra becomes obvious: Windows 2000 is the easiest Windows yet. And though the interface is largely similar to Windows 98 and NT 4.0, Microsoft has tweaked the user experience in subtle ways that makes it simpler yet more powerful, enabling beginners and power users alike to get their work done efficiently.
If you're a Windows NT user, it's likely that you've looked longingly at the Windows 98 user interface and wished that you could get an interface that refined. Fear not: The Windows 2000 GUI is even better than that of Windows 98. In Windows 2000, the desktop is less cluttered and a "personalized" Start Menu hides those icons that are rarely accessed. Common tools have been consolidated into the Control Panel. And everything is highly customizable if desired.
It's also likely that any Windows NT administrator will understand the basics of the Windows user interface so we won't waste time here on trivia such as opening folders and renaming files. Instead, this chapter will focus solely on those user interface features that are new and unique to Windows 2000 so you can get up to speed quickly.
Using the Desktop
Like Windows NT 4.0 before it, each user that logs into a Windows 2000 machine gets a unique desktop environment. But Microsoft has finally moved user settings out of the Windows directory: Now the desktop is accessible alongside other user-specific data in C:\Documents and Settings\[username\]\Desktop by default.
Although the desktop is, in many ways, just another folder on the system, it is also far more than that: The desktop is the logical root of the shell namespace, the logical view of the system that you see in My Computer and Explorer. Below the desktop, the shell namespace consists of special logical folders (also called nodes) such as My Documents, My Computer, and My Network Places, which correspond to icons on the desktop. My Documents maps to the My Documents folder, which is found in C:\Documents and Settings\[username\]\My Documents by default. My Computer is used to contain all of the local and mapped network drives that are accessible to the current user. And My Network Places--which replaces Network Neighborhood from earlier versions of Windows--provides a view of the network to which the system is connected.
Compared to earlier versions of Windows, the Windows 2000 Desktop is less cluttered, with fewer icons (Figure). And Active Desktop, that much maligned feature first introduced in Internet Explorer 4.0 and Windows 98, has been downplayed in Windows 2000. It is still available, however, from the desktop context menu (right-click the desktop to access the Active Desktop options) and it provides users with an HTML-enabled desktop that is of questionable value in a server environment because of its resource requirements.
Using the Taskbar
The Windows 2000 Taskbar sits at the bottom the desktop by default. This taskbar consists of three basic sections: The Start button, the toolbar area, and the tray notification area (usually simply called the tray). The Start button provides access to the Start menu, which contains shortcuts to application programs and system utilities (Figure). The toolbar area provides space for taskbar toolbars. By default two toolbars are provided. The first is reserved for open window icons. This is the area of the taskbar that most people actually associate with the "taskbar": Each time you open a window in Windows 2000, an icon for that window is added to the taskbar. This particular toolbar cannot be removed and is always present, though you can resize it if desired. The other default toolbar is called the Quick Launch toolbar. This toolbar contains shortcuts to the Desktop, Internet Explorer, and Outlook Express, but you can add any shortcuts you'd like. You can also add other toolbars if desired (Figure).
The tray notification area contains the system clock and, optionally, certain icons depending on how your system is configured. If you have a sound card, for example, you will see a volume control icon in the tray. If any removable devices such as USB devices are found on your system, you will also see an icon for the Unplug or Eject Hardware utility (Figure). And other applications can optionally add icons to the tray, which will automatically resize itself to accommodate any icons it contains.
Accessing the Start Menu
The Windows 2000 Start Menu offers many improvements over those found in earlier versions of Windows. Most notably, it is now completely customizable using an IE-inspired user interface. As before, shortcuts in the Start Menu can be moved or copied using simple mouse dragging techniques. But the Windows 2000 Start Menu can also be automatically sorted by name using a simple right-click. Items can be renamed on the fly, also using a right-click command option. These actions make the Start Menu more consistent with the rest of the Windows user interface, reducing confusion (Figure).
Understanding the Consolidated Start Menu
But confusion, alas, is the hallmark of the Windows 2000 Start Menu. And it's all because of a bizarre non-feature that dates back to Windows NT. Users of Windows NT 4.0 and earlier are probably familiar with the split Start Menu that divided the "current user" from "all users." In NT, like Windows 2000, you could create program groups and icons in a shared Start Menu folder or create them for only the current user. The current user would always see their own items as well as anything found in the "all users" Start menu. And a line in the middle of the Start menu divided the two sections logically. Administrators used this dividing line to separate administration tools (User manager, Internet Services Manager, and the like) from user applications such as Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. And the icons used by groups in each section differed, further segregating the sections.
Of course, that isn't what Microsoft had in mind. When IE 4.0 arrived with its shell integration, the dividing line disappeared, raising the ire of NT users everywhere. But Microsoft didn't change the different icons used for all users groups and current user groups, making the NT 4.0/Internet Explorer 4.0 Start Menu a confusing mess. Microsoft vowed to fix this in Windows 2000.
Unfortunately, that isn't exactly what happened. Certainly, the Start Menu in Windows 2000 is different from its NT 4.0/IE 4.0 predecessor, but its equally confusing if not more so. In Windows 2000, the icons for groups in "All users" the current user are consolidated into a single Start menu (Figure). All the groups have the same icon and you can actually sort the Start menu items by name, regardless of their physical location on the disk. But because some of these icons are in C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu and some are in C:\Documents and Settings\[username\]\Start Menu, moving groups and shortcuts around will cause bizarre error messages. And you can actually have identical groups in each section: You'll get a single group in the Start menu, containing the shortcuts found in both locations! For example, you can have a Startup folder for both "All users" and the current user.
It's obvious what Microsoft was trying to accomplish, but this clearly wasn't the best way to handle the situation. Rather than simplify the Start Menu, they've created something very confusing that will likely cause more than a little frustration for users. Just be forewarned about the way it works and you'll save yourself from some hair pulling.
Using My Computer and Windows Explorer
In Windows 2000, the division between My Computer and Windows Explorer finally disappears. Previously these programs performed the same operations using a slightly different interface: My Computer used a single pane, Macintosh-like interface while Windows Explorer resembled the old File Manager with a tree view of the directory structure (actually, the shell namespace) in the left side of its dual-pane interface. In Windows 2000, you can configure My Computer to work in single or dual-pane mode using a new Explorer bar feature. This feature, which shows up as the Folders icon in the My Computer toolbar, toggles the namespace tree view on and off, effectively giving users a single point for file system navigation (Figure). In Windows 2000, My Computer and Explorer are literally the same thing: We'll generally refer to this tool as My Computer from now on.
Like Windows 98, My Computer defaults to a Web view that many administrators will find annoying. Certainly, it slows down the user interface somewhat. But you can turn off Web view and tweak the way Windows 2000 displays system resources using the Folder Options tool, which is available from the Tools menu in My Computer (Figure). From Folder Options, you can set default display options for the desktop and My Computer windows, such as Web view, Browse folders (whether each folder opens in a separate window or in the same window as the previous folder), and mouse options (such as single or double-click). The View tab of Folder Options can also be used to set a variety of important settings, such as whether hidden and "super hidden" (the so-called "protected system files") are displayed in My Computer.
The default view in My Computer has been vastly simplified when compared to previous versions of Windows. Drive icons appear as always, as does an icon for Control Panel. But icons for Dial-up Networking, Scheduled Tasks, Printers and the like are nowhere to be found. Instead, these secondary tasks have been relegated to the Control Panel where they belong (Figure).
My Computer, like Internet Explorer, also offers users advanced Search Assistant and History capabilities now. And like the Folders option described earlier, these options expose themselves as toolbar icons that toggle Explorer bars.
Customizing the My Computer toolbar
One nice touch in My Computer: You can now customize the toolbar using the right-click "Customize" option (Figure). This allows you to personalize My Computer as you see fit, with your choice of toolbar icons and placement, text labels for icons, and small or large icon graphics. The Customize toolbar option is identical to the one found in Internet Explorer and, in fact, it's a little too identical: Some of the options you change while customizing My Computer also affect the toolbar in Internet Explorer and vice versa. For example, you can't choose small icons in My Computer and large icons in Internet Explorer. The icon sizes have to be the same in both places. Frankly, this is a surprisingly lame limitation and an example of how Internet Explorer is, indeed, integrated into Windows. Maybe it's too integrated.
Browsing Network Resources with My Network Places
My Network Places, which takes over for Network Neighborhood, provides quick access to network resources, such as computers, printers, and shares (Figure). But My Network Places expands on Network Neighborhood's hierarchical view by offering alternative views of the network based on user preferences. You can access the Entire Network as before, but My Network Places doesn't show every computer on the local network by default anymore because of performance complaints from administrators of large networks. Instead, you can now browse "Computers near me" or add shortcuts to specific network resources with "Add Network Place."
The Entire Network option is still available for users interested in browsing the network using the older, hierarchical view. At the root of the Entire Network are icons for each network client. These contain a list of every domain and workgroup on those networks. In turn, each domain and workgroup contains a list of computers they encompass. These computers list the resources they are sharing.
But that's the old way. In Windows 2000, network browsing can be simpler.
Browsing Computers on the Local Network
If you wanted to access another computer or resource on the network that is local to your machine--that is, you wanted to access your own domain or workgroup--using the Entire Network option would require numerous mouse-clicks. With Windows 2000, you can use the Computers Near Me to browse the local domain or workgroup with a single mouse click.
Adding a Network Place shortcut
But it gets even easier than that: If you need to access a network share regularly, you can now create a shortcut to that resource right in My Network Places. You do this with the Add Network Place icon, which launches the Add Network Places wizard (Figure). Ignoring complaints about the cuteness of the name for the moment, this wizard provides a simple and obvious way to add network shortcuts. And there are two ways to find the resource you'd like to link: You can use the Browse button to find resources or beginning typing a valid network address (such as \\nts or \\server\C) in the location edit box; the Wizard will begin auto-completing valid resources for that address, a huge time saver.
You can also create shortcuts to Web servers (such as http://www.microsoft.com). These types of shortcuts are known as Web folders.
A Web folder is created automatically any time you access a Web site with a program such as Microsoft FrontPage. Using Internet Explorer doesn't create Web folders; rather, you must be able to login to the site. You can also manually create a Web folder using the Add Network Places wizard. Either way, a Web folder provides you with a quick way to access the files and folders on Web sites to which you have read and write access. And because Web folders use familiar Explorer-style navigation, working with remote Web sites is easier than ever: You can rename, copy, move, and delete files as if they were on your local system.
One caveat for Web folders: The Web server must support this feature, which is included in Windows 2000 and Microsoft Office 2000 at this time.
Organizing Documents with My Documents
Microsoft introduced the concept of My Documents with Office 97 in early 1997. Designed as a central repository for user documents, My Documents was initially met with some skepticism. But over the years, acceptance has grown as Microsoft included this shell namespace extension in Internet Explorer 4.0 and, finally, Windows itself. All modern versions of Windows--Windows 98 and up, Windows NT 4.0/IE 4.0 and up--now feature a My Documents folder on the desktop. And in Windows 2000, My Documents gains new precedence as the first node under the desktop in the shell namespace. By default, application programs will attempt to save and load documents from this folder (Figure).
Like the desktop itself, My Documents is both a normal folder and a special shell extension. Though a My Documents folder appears on the desktop, the actual physical location for this folder is in C:\Documents and Profiles\[username\]\My Documents by default. You can, however, change the location of My Documents from the desktop: Simply right-click the My Documents icon, choose Properties, and then change the target folder location. You may want to change the location to a public network share, for example. You can also use policies to specify the target folder for My Documents for multiple users at one time (Figure).
Using the My Pictures Folder
In addition to the pervasive nature of My Documents in Windows 2000, Microsoft has extended the theme with a My Pictures folder inside of My Documents (Figure). My Pictures provides a central location for storing any type of media files, especially graphics. In this age of fast Internet connections and digital cameras, the use of digital imagery has multiplied dramatically and Microsoft has addressed this situation with My Pictures, which defaults to a thumbnail view so that you can quickly see what each document looks like.
Finding Files, Folders, and other Resources
Windows 95/98 and NT 4.0 have a handy Find feature that is readily accessible from the Start Menu, but Microsoft has integrated this functionality right into the shell in Windows 2000 (Figure). Now dubbed the Search Assistant, this tool is available as an Explorer bar in My Computer that can be toggled from a toolbar button (Figure). It is also available from the root of the Start Menu as Search. And the Search Assistant doesn't just look for files and folders: You can also use this tool to find computers on the network and people in your address book. A separate Internet Search is also available that finds sites on the Internet.
Finding Files and Folders
When you launch the Search Assistant, you are given two main search choices. First, you can enter the complete or partial name of the file or folder you are trying to find on your system. By default, the Search Assistant will search every hard drive on your system; you can fine-tune the search location by using the Look in drop-down list box, which provides links to all of the nodes in your shell namespace. You can also browse to a specific location if desired. The name of the file or folder you attempt to search for can be a complete name (chap04.doc for example) or just a partial match (such as doc). You can also use standard DOS wildcards to refine your search: *.doc would search for all files with a .doc extension.
You can optionally enter text that is contained by the file you are attempting to find. For example, if you're searching for any Word documents that contain the words Today's WinInfo, you could enter *.doc in the Search for files and folders named field and Today's WinInfo in the Containing text field.
If you've used the Find feature in earlier versions of Windows, you're probably familiar with this level of functionality. But the Search Assistant also offers advanced search options, such as the ability to search for files and folders that match specific date and time criteria, certain file types, size ranges, and the ability to alternatively search subfolders (this is on by default) (Figure). Also, Windows 2000 includes an optional component called the Indexing Service, which can index files and folders on your system so that searches are performed more quickly. By default, the Indexing Service is not turned on, but you can enable it from the Search Assistant if desired. Using the Indexing Service opens up even more advanced searching capabilities through its powerful index query language.
If you click the Search toolbar button in My Network Places, you will be shown the Search for Computers tool by default. This tool is also available via a submenu on the Search Start Menu option and from a hyperlink in the Search Assistant.
Unlike the Search Assistant, however, there isn't a lot going on here: Basically, you can search for a computer name, but it you must already know the full name of the computer you are trying to find: Partial names and/or wildcards will not work for some reason. In general, this tool is only useful when the machine your looking for is on a different network and you know the exact name: Otherwise, simply use My Network Places to navigate to the machine you want.
The Search for People tool opens a standard Win32 dialog, unlike the other Explorer-based search tools, a glaring bit of inconsistency (Figure). You can search for people in your address book or the Active Directory (if it's installed), which has a sort of limited appeal. But the big news here is that you can also use this tool to search for people using various Internet search services such as Yahoo! People Search and Bigfoot Internet Directory Service. Trying to find your long-lost prom date from high school? This is the place to turn.
On a creepy note, try searching for your own name on the various services. The truth is out there. Unfortunately.
Using the Control Panel for System Maintenance
Back in the days of Windows 3.1, system utilities were split into various "manager" programs such as "Program Manager," "File Manager," "Print Manager," and the like. Users found these utilities confusing, and one of Microsoft's big goals for Windows 95 was the consolidation of these manager programs into more obvious utilities. And for the first time, the Control Panel--a special folder containing system management utilities--took on new importance as a clearinghouse for these tools. However, the Control Panel in Windows 95, and later in Windows 98 and NT 4.0, can hardly be called complete: Key system components, such Dial-up Networking and Printers, are managed in separate locations outside of the Control Panel for some reason. In Windows 2000, finally, Microsoft has achieved the original goal for Control Panel as these utilities have finally been collected under the Control Panel umbrella.
Available as a special folder at the root of My Computer, the Control Panel contains a host of utilities that can be used to configure your system. These utilities, sometimes called Control Panel applets, each provide a specific functionality (Figure).
If you're familiar with earlier versions of Windows, you're going to notice some differences in Windows 2000. Many Control Panel applets have been consolidated, for example. Dial-up Networking properties (which was previously available as a separate folder in My Computer) has been combined with Networking properties into the new Network and Dial-up Connections applet (Figure). The previously separate Sounds and Multimedia applets have been integrated into a single Sounds and Multimedia utility.
But there have been numerous additions to the Control Panel as well. New to Windows 2000 are Add/Remove Programs, Administrative Tools, Folder Options, Game Controllers, Power Options, Scanners and Cameras, and Scheduled Tasks. Many of these additions reflect the new level of hardware support in Windows 2000. Some additions, such as the new and much anticipated Device Manager are hidden inside of other tools (Device Manager can be found in Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> System Tools).
One of the most exciting additions to Windows 2000 is power management (Figure). Configured through the Power Options applet in Control Panel, Windows 2000 power management allows you to select power management schemes that are appropriate for the type of machine you're using. You can configure power management to shut down the monitor and hard drives after specific intervals of inactivity if desired. And Windows 2000 supports advanced power management options such as Hibernate, which copies the state of the RAM onto the hard drive and then allows you to power-on the system with all of your previously running applications returning intact. Of course, for a server, many of these options don't make much sense. Typically, you'd want to instruct power management to shut down the monitor but never shut down the hard drives, which you'll always want available: Otherwise, the first user that hits the server after the hard drives have shut down will need to wait while the drive spins back to life. Alternatively, you could simply disable power management and manually shut down the monitor, especially on a server that sits in a back room somewhere. The power management features, however, are particularly attractive for any machine you'll be working at daily.
Other Control Panel applets should be fairly obvious, even the ones that have changed dramatically since Windows NT 4.0. The Printers folder works in a manner similar to the previous version, but uses a handy new wizard to add printers. Regional Options allows you to determine language and locale settings for the system, with advanced options for date, number, and currency formats. And the oddly placed User and Passwords applet provides a local alternative to the Local Users and Groups utility in Computer management. This applet provides only the most basic user and group management facilities, but it does provide a link to the full Local Users and Groups utility (Figure).
Adding and Removing Application Programs
Windows 95/98 and NT 4.0 include a decent Add/Remove Programs utility, but Microsoft has significantly enhanced this capability in Windows 2000. Add/Remove Programs provides users with the ability to change or remove existing programs, add new programs, and add and remove Windows components. The interface is brand new and based on HTML, Microsoft's preferred GUI for new development.
When you open the Add/Remove Programs applet, you are shown a list of previously installed application programs by default. This list can be sorted by name, size, frequency of use, and other criteria (Figure). And as you select each application in the list, it expands to display more information. A Change/Remove button allows you to add and remove components (when supported by the application) or simply remove the application.
The Add New Programs option allows you to install a new application program from CD-ROM, floppy, or, though it doesn't mention this, over the network (Figure). When you click the CD or Floppy button, Windows searches your floppy, CD-ROM and other removable storage devices for a setup program. If it doesn't find one, you can use a wizard to search for the program you are trying to install. In this way, you can navigate to a network share to install application programs that have been provided by the system administrator. The setup for Microsoft Office 2000 is most often installed this way. Add New Programs also includes a button that links to Windows Updates, Microsoft's Web site for new Windows features, device drivers, and system updates. This feature requires a connection to the Internet as it opens an Internet Explorer window to interact with the Windows Update Web site.
The third major option in Add/Remove Programs is Add/Remove Windows Components. Clicking this option launched the Windows Component Wizard, which allows you to install, configure, or remove Windows components (Figure). Components include such things as Internet Information Services, various management and monitoring tools, Microsoft Message Queuing Service, Microsoft Indexing Services, Terminal Services, and more. The Windows Component Wizard uses a fairly straightforward interface that allows you to select and deselect the components you want to add or remove.
Using the Windows Installer Service
The technology behind the Add/Remove Programs applet is called the Windows Installer Service, which debuted with Microsoft Office 2000 in mid-1999 (Figure). The Windows Installer Service defines a new standard for installing, updating, removing and even repairing application programs. Applications that take advantage of Windows Installer can perform "just in time installations" where only the most basic components of the application are installed until the user needs other features. Then, those features are automatically installed, via CDROM or, more advantageously, via the network without any input from the user. In fact, on network installs, the user will see nothing more than a quick dialog informing them that a new feature is being added. No reboots are needed, and the user can continue with their work immediately.
In fact, you can take the "just in time installation" feature a step further and not actually install any applications on the user's machine but rather simply install shortcuts to the applications. The first time the user clicks on a shortcut, the base setup of that application will be installed.
Applications that use Windows Installer can also repair themselves. If the user inadvertently deletes all of the local files required by Microsoft Word 2000, for example, Windows Installer will simply reinstall those files the next time Word 2000 is launched.
And Windows Installer integrated with Active Directory: If a user attempts to launch a program for which there is no file association, Windows will search for an application that has been published in the Active Directory that can open that type of file. Then, Windows will automatically install that application for the user.
Working with Hardware
Though Windows NT 4.0 is widely regarded as a stable and secure environment, one of the biggest complaints from users has revolved around its lackluster support for hardware. As the computing world moves into a Plug and Play future, Windows NT seems stuck in a past of legacy hardware. Meanwhile, Windows 95 and Windows 98, Microsoft's current consumer-level operating systems, have always supported Plug and Play.
In Windows 2000, Microsoft includes the next generation of Plug and Play, which is provided through new computer BIOSes that support ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface). ACPI is a specification that provides standards for power management and Plug and Play, removing the need for previous generation proprietary Plug and Play BIOSes. For older machines, Microsoft supports a subset of Plug and Play BIOSes; in fact, they've published a list of BIOSes they support. To get the best performance out of Windows 2000, however, you will generally need a machine whose BIOS is dated January 1, 1999 or newer.
When Windows 2000 boots, it goes through a lengthy hardware detection and configuration process. First, it attempts to identify each device that is connected to the system and determine what resources they require. Then, it assigns non-conflicting resources to each device and loads any drivers the devices may require. If the configuration is different than the previously stored hardware configuration, the change is noted and stored in the Registry.
To support the changes in hardware support, Microsoft had added two new utilities to Windows 2000 that will be familiar to Windows 95 and 98 users: the Add/Remove Hardware Wizard and Device Manager.
Using Add/Remove Hardware
You can launch the new Add/Remove Hardware Wizard from the Add/Remove Hardware applet in Control Panel (Figure). This wizard allows you to add, remove, and troubleshoot hardware. There is also an option to unplug a removable hardware device, but this functionality is more quickly accessed from the Unplug or Eject Hardware utility that will be available in your system tray if your system does include any removable hardware such as a ZIP drive or USB device (Figure).
When you launch the Add/Remove Hardware Wizard, you will be confronted with two choices: Add/Troubleshoot a device and Uninstall/Unplug a device. When you select the first option, Windows will search for any new Plug and Play devices first. If it finds a new device, it will attempt to install the device. Otherwise, Windows assumes you want to troubleshoot an existing device that isn't properly configured. This could be because the device isn't yet supported by Windows 2000 or because you are using a system with limited (non-ACPI) Plug and Play support and there is a resource conflict. The wizard will provide a list of devices on your system, placing any problem devices at the top of the list. Otherwise, the devices will be listed alphabetically. If you do select a device that isn't working, the wizard will start a separate troubleshooter application called the Upgrade Device Driver Wizard. This wizard will allow you to search for a driver or specify a driver that you have provided. Anyone who has spent time trying to add or configure hardware in Windows NT 4.0 will agree that this functionality is a godsend (Figure).
Using Device Manager
Another new addition to the NT code-base in Windows 2000 is the Device Manager, which provides you with a graphical listing of the hardware on your machine (Figure). Unfortunately, the Device Manager is a little hard to find: You can access this tool from the Hardware tab of System Properties or via the Computer Management tool in Administrative Tools.
With Device Manager, you can check with a glance that all of your hardware is working properly. You can change hardware configuration settings, change device drivers for specific hardware devices, enable, disable, and uninstall hardware, and more. For the most part, you should use Device Manager to simply check that your hardware is functioning properly. Windows 2000 automatically configures hardware settings for you. However, Device Manager will allow you to manually change resource settings and the like if you are so inclined.