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Taking Windows2000 for a Spin–and Enjoying the Ride

 By Louis Columbus (

 Taking Microsoft's Windows2000 Workstation out for a spin is a lot like test-driving a redesigned sports car that is more nimble on the curves and has the ability to punch through speed limits with ease.

 The first characteristic you'll notice about Windows2000 is the streamlined navigation for common tasks compared to Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, and the fact that this operating system has a wealth of features for the corporate user including Active Directory, IntelliMirror, Terminal Services and Windows Script Host, among many others.  At $248 at most Web sites including, Windows2000 is three times the price of Windows98.  The higher price buys you an operating system with fundamentally different architecture and performance level.

On a series of benchmark tests, Windows2000 had superior performance relative to Windows98 on 16-bit applications; it's noticeably faster than Windows NT 4.0 Workstation when it comes to running most mainstream 32-bit applications as well.  Just like a new car you're unfamiliar with, there are entirely new features and redesigned ways of using the old ones, many of which are common with Windows NT Workstation 4.0.

In keeping with the car analogy, Windows NT Workstation 4.0 is as reliable and predictable as a Camry, while Windows2000 Workstation is like a Toyota Celica with the full 180-horsepower engine under the hood. You can get a Camry for less than $20K and it will cost you bigger bucks to get the performance of the 2000 Celica. The same holds true for Windows2000 Professional. 

A Very Long Road Test

  Starting about this time last year Microsoft released the first beta versions of Windows2000 Professional.  Being test driven by literally thousands of users generated volumes of suggestions for improvements and bug fixes.  I have been a beta tester for the last year, and have seen the reliability and navigation get progressively better.  The performance running Web content development tools like Adobe Acrobat and PageMaker has steadily increased, as Microsoft has worked with controller manufactures to make the Direct Memory Access (DMA) as streamlined as possible when working with IDE drives.  With each beta release, performance improved.

Another aspect of Windows2000 Professional has been impressive during the last year.  It's getting as bulletproof as Windows NT 4.0 Workstation.  During the last year of beta testing, I found the overall reliability to be miles ahead of the Windows 3.51 betas, which were a challenge to even run applets on.  I've also found the reliability of Windows2000 at file printing and sharing is significantly better than Windows NT 4.0.  While I have not quantified the performance gains with benchmarks, Windows2000 Professional is better at printing than Windows NT 4.0 Workstation.

A third aspect of the long beta road for this operating system is the breadth of support developed by Microsoft , Windows NT Magazine (now Windows2000 Magazine) and Windows Magazine.

Although many annoyances during beta testing have since been fixed, one area continues to be a source of frustration:  trying to get my high-performance graphics card to work with Windows2000 Professional.  I have an Oxygen GMX2000 card that delivers consistently high graphics performance in Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. Using the latest beta release of the 3D Labs graphics driver made Windows2000 beta lock up until I toggled down parameters and made the card as predictable for Windows2000 Professional as possible.  A word of caution: watch out for a lack of graphics and multimedia device drivers in Windows2000 Professional.  In finding a solution to the problem, I discovered others in newsgroups facing the same issue with other cards as well.  It seems to be a common problem for those trying to use higher-performance graphics cards and multimedia devices. 

 Get Your Motor Running–What's It Going to Take?

 Microsoft, aiming at tapping the largest potential market possible, says the minimum system requirements for Windows2000 Professional are a 133MHz processor or higher Pentium-compatible CPU, 64MB of RAM and 650MB free disk space on a 2-gigabyte hard drive, but unless you want your system to crawl, aim higher. You should have at least a Pentium III system with 128MB RAM or more and a SCSI hard drive to get the performance you would expect.  If you're going to be using Windows2000 Professional for serious drafting and design work or Web development tools, then go for a Pentium III-based system with 256MB RAM and SCSI drives.  Be sure to get the graphics card device driver issue checked out before buying a new system with Windows2000 Professional on it as well.      

Compatibility in the Fast Lane

 There's a group inside Microsoft that provides a great service to computer manufacturers who bundle Windows98, Windows NT and now Windows2000 with their hardware products.  The key to sales for Original Equipment Manufacturers is making sure their products and peripherals are Windows2000-compatible.  The Windows Hardware Quality Assurance Lab (WHQL) Web site provides testing and certification of both systems and peripherals with Windows2000 Professional. For a system or any peripheral to be included on the Hardware Compatibility List for Windows2000,a series of tests need to be passed, often with an investment in engineering changes required from the company seeking the certification.  That's what makes the WHQL Team so valuable for you and me–they work through an extensive battery of tests to ensure systems and peripherals are compatible, so we don't have to.  If you choose to upgrade your system for Windows2000 Professional be sure to use these lists in choosing a peripheral.  The new graphical nature of the list also provides you with an appreciation of just how compatible a given system or peripheral is with Windows2000 Professional.  

 The Verdict

 From the hands-on testing completed over the last year, it's apparent that Windows2000 Professional has several strong attributes including stability, reliability and compatibility with previous Windows applications, including AutoCAD, Bentley's MicroStation and several Web development tools.  The performance is significantly faster than Windows98 with these applications–and much more stable.  Yet for these strengths there are weaknesses in the areas of graphics device drivers and a lack of multimedia support.  Since many corporations are more interested in operating systems with consistent GUIs, which can be easily trained to users and a stable platform, Windows2000 Professional is going to do well in corporate America.  Yet if you want to create the ultimate and baddest multimedia machine on the planet, do your homework on the device driver issue before plunging into Windows2000 Professional.  As the device driver issue subsides and multi-threaded games appear with strong graphics, Windows2000 Professional could be the operating system for your dream machine.  For now it's nice to get behind the wheel every once in a while and floor it through some quick turns in applications.

 Louis Columbus is director, market research for and regularly writes on Internet and technology topics.  He has 10 books published and more than three dozen articles.  His latest book is Administrator's Guide to Electronic Commerce with H.W. Sams Publishing Company.

  More Related Links

 Microsoft's Windows2000 Website:

 Microsoft's Minimum system requirements: asp

  Windows2000 Experience from Windows2000 Magazine:



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