Windows 2000: An all-or-nothing proposition
April 28, 1999
by Cynthia Morgan
(IDG) -- When Windows 2000 ships, older systems and applications are liable to be left behind. Customers who want to use Microsoft Corp.'s new operating system should be willing to sacrifice incompatible hardware and software or accept the fact that the best parts of Windows 2000 won't work.
Windows 3.x, 95, 98, MS-DOS and OS/2 clients won't take advantage of critical features such as Microsoft's new Active Directory global directory service. If information technology managers need those capabilities on the desktop, Microsoft generally has one solution: Upgrade to Windows 2000. The new operating system will balk at installing on top of non-Windows 2000-compliant hardware or applications.
Microsoft Senior Vice President Jim Allchin insists that IT departments' overwhelming need for reliability mandated what some might call the abandonment of a large, installed base of corporate PC users. "We hope we don't have to sacrifice too much compatibility," Allchin says. But "If it comes down to a hard trade-off, we'll come down on the side of reliability. Users just want reliable, simple computing," he says.
Generally speaking, hardware limitations will keep a large number of client PCs out of the Windows 2000 Pro arena. The new operating system isn't appreciably more hardware-hungry than Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, but it still requires substantially more horsepower than the Windows 9x PCs running on many corporate desktops.
One solution, says Microsoft group product manager Ed Muth, is to run applications from the server using Windows 2000's enhanced Terminal Server. However, that will boost the server-processing load and further clog crowded networks.
If you don't upgrade a client on a Windows 2000 network, what key features will you miss?
This fills a crucial shortcoming in previous versions of Windows: the lack of a true global directory service. Under NT 4.0, administrators must repeatedly develop and maintain separate lists of users and resources for network services such as log-in authentication, messaging and Internet access. Active Directory consolidates all those lists, cutting the time and cost to manage a large network. Probably the most important feature of Windows 2000, Active Directory is the foundation for many other new features in the operating system.
"Active Directory, when it's in place, will be great," says Steve Sommer, CIO at law firm Hughes, Hubbard and Reed LLP in New York. Sommer's company has about 65 NT 4.0 servers and roughly 1,000 client PCs, all running Windows NT Workstation. "We don't have to have just one domain. Our clients are now requesting things from our system. From the accounting side, they want billing; they want to look at their billing [online]; they want us to be able to work on contracts immediately."
Under current versions of Windows, user configuration data is kept on the local computer, not on the server. Windows 2000's IntelliMirror lets users log on to any computer on the network and receive its entire personal configuration, including desktop and applications. IntelliMirror also makes it easier for network managers to define and maintain group configurations of applications and network resources.
The new operating system enhances the rudimentary virtual private network found in Windows NT 4.0, making setup much easier for telecommuters. Windows 2000 also supports multiple network-connection methods without reconfiguration, so that users can easily move from an office network to a dial-up connection and extend the ability to synchronize files and Web pages for off-line work.
Windows NT 4.0's dismal support for nonstandard hardware is legendary, and even Windows 98 has at times failed to adequately manage device recognition and power usage. Windows 2000 is Microsoft's first attempt at supporting the new advanced configuration and power interface specification, which has the potential to greatly improve hardware management.
Moving to Windows 2000 on the server can improve overall enterprise security, compared with Windows NT 4.0. But Windows 2000 Pro gives added security to desktops by encrypting hard-drive data so that it can't be read by installing the hard drive on a new machine. The new operating system natively supports security measures such as smart-card authentication.
"The Kerberos security is a lot more effective [than what's in Windows NT 4.0]...," Sommer says. "The ability to quickly and securely link to outside business partners will be very important."
In some ways, Windows 2000 strictly enforces what Microsoft has found to be the best practices to keep servers and desktops running reliably. New Windows 2000 setup routines scan the system for potential incompatibilities and require they be resolved before installation can proceed.
Last year, Microsoft surveyed five companies running more than 1,300 Windows NT 4.0 servers with the then-latest service pack updates. It found IT management practices greatly influenced reliability, according to Allchin and Muth.
The highest client/server reliability occurred where managers performed extensive compatibility testing of any device or application before installing it on the network and enforced standard desktop configurations. Those that weren't as stringent in their control suffered up to five times the number of reboots and 10 times as many "blue screen of death" system crashes, Allchin says.
It's been widely reported that a sizable percentage of older applications either won't run properly or will block installation of Windows 2000. The worst offenders are the following:
Microsoft supplies some tools to overcome problems with these components. For example, its Migration DLL AppWizard helps Microsoft C++ 5.0 programmers isolate and migrate incompatible DLLs.
Another tool, Sysdiff.exe, troubleshoots test installations by taking a snapshot of changes to an application's files and Windows Registry settings when Windows 2000 is installed. Both are available on Microsoft's Web site (link below).
"Compatibility's always a concern . . ., but it always works out," Sommer says. "The vendors we use, including Microsoft, are testing on Windows 2000 right now. I've made sure the major [vendors] are testing out their applications and will be 2000-ready when we do it."
Office 2000 is worth the upgrade
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