Windows 2000 Release Candidate 2 (RC2, build 2128) is the final major release before the product is released to manufacturing, a feature-complete look at the most ambitious operating system project ever undertaken by Microsoft. As such, this release is marked most obviously by the extremely subtle changes between it and RC1: There just aren't a lot of obvious differences (Figure 2), though that's a good thing when you're trying to ship a product. But even with the similarities, I was able to uncover the following differences in RC2:

Changes to multiprocessing
Between the release of RC1 and RC2, Microsoft announced that all of the Server family products would be updated to support better symmetrical multiprocessing (SMP). So Server Edition now supports four processors (up from two) and Advanced Server supports eight (up from four). This was done largely to calm fears about the dropping of the Alpha platform, which had previously been Microsoft's high-end solution.

Network disconnect cue
Networking simplification has always been a goal in Windows 2000 and with RC2 a new visual cue has been added to alert the user when the machine is disconnected from the network. Even when you choose to not display a tray icon when connected, an icon will appear to alert you should the network cable or Ethernet card become unplugged (Figure 3). When the network connection is physically reconnected, the icon disappears.

My Network Places updates
Long-time Windows 2000 users are used to the "nag screens" you see when you navigate to the Program Files, Winnt, and System32 folders. In RC2, a new nag screen has been added to the Entire Network folder (Figure 4, found within My Network Places). This was done to reduce network traffic since the view from this folder could cause hundreds or even thousands of machines to be polled on a large network.

If you're running Windows 2000 on a domain, the "Computers Near Me" icon has been removed, though it remains on workgroup systems. Microsoft's rationale for this change is that there are far too many machines in a typical domain and displaying them all when the user clicked this icon was time and resource intensive. After all, this was the reason these computer icons were removed from the root of My Network Places to begin with.

Add/Remove Programs tweaks
When you choose Add/Remove Windows Components in Add/Remove Programs, a "Please wait" alert lets you know that the system is at least doing something while you wait for the dialog to appear (Figure 5). In earlier builds, there was just an awkward pause, making one wonder whether they had actually clicked the option properly.

Internet Explorer 5.01
Windows 2000 RC2 contains the latest version of Internet Explorer, version 5.01 (build 5.00.2919.3800), which includes numerous bug fixes as well as a few new features (Figure 6). IE 5.01 will continue to be updated over the next few months and then will be finalized just before Windows 2000 goes gold.

APM power management removed from Server family
For reasons that completely escape me, and despite repeated attempts by me and others to have this feature reinstated, Microsoft stripped APM power management from Server and Advanced Server (it still exists in Professional, and the Server products still support the new and more powerful ACPI power management). This means that any servers built before January 1, 1999 will have no power management at all, leaving many developers in the lurch.

I understand that most servers don't actually need power management, but the vast majority of Windows 2000 systems out there today were built before 1/1/99. I think this was a mistake, though not a critical one.

MDAC 2.5
Windows 2000 RC2 includes the final release of Microsoft's Data Access Components (MDAC) version 2.5, which includes new features and numerous bug fixes. One of the coolest new features is the ability to open an ADO recordset from a standard Web URL, a feature that will be extended by the next version of SQL Server, code-named "Shiloh." Also, Windows 2000 includes the basic SQL Server client software, allowing Windows 2000-based ADO, OLE-DB, and ODBC clients to easily access SQL Server data on other servers.

Event Viewer UI update
The use interface of the Event Viewer has been updated to make it easier to navigate between events and their properties (Figure 7). And a new hyperlink feature, linking an error event to the appropriate description on Microsoft's Web site is a nice touch.

Conclusions
As you can see by this short list, there isn't much new to Windows 2000 RC2, but then that's a good thing: Sure, bugs have been fixed and new drivers have been implemented, but to the end user, Windows 2000 has remained a virtual constant since the Beta 3 release back in April. That makes sense, since the product has been feature frozen for some time. So, as an end user, RC2 is a little boring because it looks and feels the same as the other releases we've been using for some time now. But it doesn't take much perspective to realize that this build is something special, an early look at the final OS to come.

And that day isn't far off: Windows 2000 is ready to go final.