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Windows 2000 Pro Looks Good

It may not ship until October, or even next year, but if the latest pre-release version is an indication, Windows 2000 Professional will be a welcome upgrade on many a desktop. The Microsoft operating system, tentatively scheduled to ship this fall, is the first that combines the strengths of Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98, and Internet Explorer 5.0. If you're using Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional will be a fairly easy upgrade. If you're using Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, you'll find Windows 2000's hardware support and well-organized interface to be welcome improvements. Dying to test it out yourself? Micron and Dell are preloading Windows 2000 Professional Beta 3 on some new PCs, or you can order it directly from Microsoft for $60.

At Long Last, an Upgrade
Windows 2000 is the first version of Windows NT (Microsoft recently changed the name from Windows NT 5.0) that upgrades an existing Windows 9x installation. This is an improvement over Windows NT 4.0. It's easy to add Windows NT 4.0 to a Windows 9x system, but NT won't pick up your existing Windows configuration settings or installed applications. And installing Windows NT 4.0 will fail if your C: drive is a FAT32 partition. But when you install Windows 2000 from within Windows 98, you get to choose between upgrading (that is, replacing Windows 98 with Windows 2000) and installing Windows 2000 to a new location, which Microsoft calls a "clean install."

On my test system, the upgrade option worked like a charm, installing Windows 2000 in place of Windows 98 on a FAT32 partition. The installation program also asks whether you want to convert the installation drive to the NTFS file system, or stay with the existing file system. I converted successfully, but you may want to stick with what you've got if you plan to install Windows 9x or another operating system on the machine. Currently, only Windows NT and 2000 can read NTFS partitions. If Windows 2000 has compatibility trouble with your hardware or software, you'll probably hear about it before installation even starts. After surveying the current installation, the setup program declared that it had no drivers from my system's Creative SoundBlaster Live Value sound system, a forgivable oversight in a beta. Had I had the manufacturer's driver disk handy (I didn't), Windows 2000 would have copied the driver files immediately.

The setup program also reported that the Diamond InControl control panel, PowerQuest's DriveMapper (part of PartitionMagic) and several other hardware-related utilities wouldn't work either, and that I would need to upgrade them to Windows 2000 versions. At this point the program gives you the option to print out the list and back out of the installation process. If your list of incompatible applications is long enough, you might be better off canceling installation, booting Windows 98, removing the incompatible software, and attempting the upgrade again.

The Changing Face of NT
If you switch between Windows NT and Windows 98, you know about having multiple personalities. Windows 2000 unites the disparate personalities. Many configuration tools scattered in NT--especially administrative tools--are now consolidated in the Control Panel. You'll also find a convenient shortcut to Dial-Up Networking settings right on the Start menu's Settings submenu. Renamed Network and Dial-Up Connections, the tool now uses the Windows 9x icon-based interface, instead of NT 4.0's dialog-box metaphor. Clicking the Make New Connection icon starts a wizard that lets you choose among five kinds of connections: dial-up to private network (such as a corporate LAN), the Internet, a Virtual Private Network (a remote LAN you connect to over the Internet), incoming connections, and direct connections to other computers.

One of Windows 98's crowning glories is the Device Manager page in the System Properties Control Panel applet. Windows NT doesn't have it, making hardware configuration a game of hide-and-seek. Now, Windows 2000 not only offers the same Device Manager interface, it also adds a Hardware Wizard. Unfortunately, neither the wizard nor the driver update options in Device Manager were smart enough to go out and find a SoundBlaster Live Value driver for me. But the ability to view and configure hardware in a central location is a godsend.

I didn't test a wide variety of applications under Windows 2000 Professional, but the dozen or so I tried ran perfectly. The exceptions were the hardware-related utilities flagged by the Windows 2000 installer, and PowerQuest's Drive Image 2.0, which doesn't run under Windows NT 4.0, either. Windows 2000 even passed the kid test, allowing my son to play his favorite game, Myst. Guess I'd better get that sound card driver installed.

 

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