Windows 2000: Insidiously Important, but upgrade isn't for everyone

by Alan Zisman (c) 2000. First published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, February 2000

Barring last-minute catastrophe such as a meteorite striking Redmond, we will soon see the release of Microsoft?s latest operating system upgrade?Windows 2000, slated for a February 17th release.

A new OS version from Microsoft always has effects that ripple through the computer industry?and this one may prove more significant than most. Where Windows 98, for example, was really a fairly minor retake on Windows 95, and last year?s Windows 98 SE a barely noticeable fine-tuning of the initial Win98, Windows 2000 is a major undertaking for the software giant.

For a start, with some 45 million lines of computer code, it?s the biggest and most complex version of Windows ever. Four years in the making, it is?despite the name?two years later than originally promised. For a while there were fears that Microsoft would not be able to get a handle on this gargantuan undertaking, or that it would prove to be so incompatible with older hardware and software as to be virtually unusable.

Neither of these have occurred, however. I?ve been running various pre-release versions of Windows 2000 Professional for the past six months or so, and have found even these not-quite-ready for the general public versions stable, fast, and pretty much working as advertised.

A few things need to be made clear, however.

Despite the name, Windows 2000 is not the successor to Windows 95, Windows 98, et al. Instead, it follows up on 1996?s Windows NT version 4.0. In fact, Win 2000 was originally expected to be named NT 5.0?and perhaps should have been given that moniker. Despite earlier announcements that Win98 was the end of the road for that product?s evolution, Microsoft is, in fact, separately continuing development of the Win9x series.

Like its NT predecessors, Win 2000 (aka W2K) is not built on the DOS-core that underlies the Windows 9x series. Built from the ground-up as a 32-bit networkable operating system, it offers more security and robustness than the Win9x systems. To achieve those noble ends, however, W2K offers less support for the wide range of PC hardware and software than its Win9x cousins.

W2K does support more hardware and peripherals than the earlier NT versions?it uses the Windows Drive Model (WDM) for device drivers that was introduced with Windows 98, and unlike NT 4.0, includes workable plug-and-play support and USB support. Improved power management will make W2K a better fit with notebook users (though this is the one area where the pre-release versions consistently failed to work properly on my year-old notebook).

Assume that the practical minimum hardware required is a 300 MHz processor and 64 megs of RAM. A clean install uses about 500 megs of drive space.

Similarly, W2K includes DirectX, making it a better gaming platform than its NT predecessor? but that really wasn?t its goal, and it generally forbids the direct hardware access that many games need. A fairly large number of programs, including Microsoft?s own Encarta 98, for example, will complain when you try to install them under W2K. Encarta 98 seems to work anyway, but at least one that I tested?the music program Mixman Studio simply refused to install.

Microsoft has a web page ( that lists hardware and software compatibility?including tested computer BIOS versions. In checking compatible software, you may notice that while a fairly large number of products are listed as W2K-ready, hardly any are officially W2K certified. Microsoft has significantly toughened the standards for software to receive W2K certification?such programs must pass a series of tests by the independent VeriTest organization, including an uninstall that works, and an installation that doesn?t litter the Start Menu with little-used ReadMe and Help file icons. Certified applications must be self-repairing, and minimize conflicts among applications that share DLL files, while supporting multiple users or users who use multiple computers on a network.

The W2K certification requirements have been needed for a long time, and have the potential to help solve many of the problems in the Windows environment?but virtually no software currently meets these standards?not even Microsoft?s recent Office 2000 is listed as certified. In fact, out of 2237 applications listed in early January as compatible with W2K, exactly five were listed as certified?so it may be a while before these standards have much impact.

We can expect to see W2K pre-installed on some systems that will end up with home, school, and small-business users. Some users will look to upgrade existing Win9x or NT systems to W2K (and may be surprised to find that its retail pricing, like that of NT 4.0, will be about double that of Win9x). The key market, however, like earlier NT versions, is enterprise computer users?large corporations, where users are typically running a relatively small number of applications on reasonable standardized hardware.

Those users will find W2K in four separate versions:

  • -- Windows 2000 Professional is the replacement for NT 4.0 Desktop. This is the version aimed at individual users, especially if they are connected to a network server. In fact, many of the features that are aimed at corporate settings, such as Active Directory and IntelliMirror will only work with W2K Servers and W2K Professional client systems?any other combination, and these features will not be available.
  • -- Windows 2000 Server is the entry-level server product, supporting single or dual-processor servers (up to four CPU systems are supported in upgrading from NT 4.0 Server), and providing file, print, application, and web server services. Network administrators can manage a W2K Server system from a W2K Professional desktop.
  • -- Windows 2000 Advanced Server ramps up the feature set another notch, promising support for up to 64 gigs of RAM on Alpha and Xeon servers. A fresh install supports up to 4 processors, while an upgrade from NT 4.0?s Enterprise Edition Server can support up to 8 multiprocessors. Clustering allows combining of several servers into a single functional unit, both for more power and increased reliability.
  • -- Windows 2000 DataCenter Server will not be released on the February 17th date, but has been promised for later this Spring. It ups the ante once again, supporting a larger number of multi-processors, and being tuned to provide services for large database or transaction processing.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan