Mon, 14 Feb 2000

Microsoft W2K: Is it for your business PCs?

By Zatni Arbi

JAKARTA (JP): Now that the Y2K worries are virtually over, what is next on the agenda for IT managers? Their question is likely to be: "Are we ready for W2K?" What they have in mind is the question of whether they are ready to make the move to Windows 2000. Yes, in a few days -- on Feb. 17, to be precise, Microsoft is going to launch Windows 2000, the next generation of their operating system aimed at business users -- not home PC users.

The question is valid, because the move will involve drastic changes in a lot of things. IT managers will have to learn a lot of new features, some of which we will touch on briefly later. In addition to another steep learning curve, which many observers have figured will take between four and six months, there will also be a hefty demand of hardware.

Initially, Microsoft told us that the minimum requirement would be a Pentium 133 MHz, 32 MB of RAM and a 2 GB hard disk with at least 650 MB free space. Closer to the release date, Microsoft has revised the minimum requirement to a more sensible Pentium 166 MHz and 64 MB of RAM.

For my preliminary test drive, I was lucky to get a loan from Hewlett-Packard: a very fast Vectra powered by a Pentium III processor running at 500 MHz. The machine came with 128 MB of RAM, a 50x CD ROM, a built-in Crystal SoundFusion sound card and a 3Com Ethernet card.

The graphics subsystem was a Matrox MGA-G200 AGP. PT Microsoft Indonesia gave me a copy of Release Candidate 3 (RC3) of Windows 2000 Professional, the preview version of Windows 2000 Professional that was the closest to the shipping product. This version can be used only for 444 days after the date of its installation.

Easy Installation

Windows 2000 will come in four different categories: Professional, Server, Advanced Server and Data Center. Windows 2000 Professional is to be used on client PCs or workstations. The Server version is meant for use on basic print and file servers. For more complex server environments, you will need the Advanced Server version. The Data Center is meant for really demanding, mission-critical applications involving clustering with support for 32 processors. It is expected to cost enterprises a fortune to acquire the Data Center, and it will be available later this year.

The Professional version, which I tried out, has a familiar interface that is so much like Windows 98. No surprise here, because it is indeed a combination of Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. However, Windows 2000 adopted only those features of Windows 98 that were useful in a business environment -- although I still found FreeCell, 3-D Pinball and Solitaire under its Accessories.

The Vectra already had Windows 98 installed, but I wanted to start with a clean machine. I first wiped all the contents of the loaned Vectra's 8 GB hard disk using the FDISK utility on an old DOS boot disk. The Vectra can boot from the CD-ROM, so I did not have to create Windows 2000 boot disks from the installation CD. If your PC cannot boot from the CD ROM drive, the Windows 2000 Installation CD includes a utility that will create the necessary boot disks for you.

Thanks to the speed of the processor and the ample RAM, installation was a breeze. My RC3 was able to recognize all the components of the Vectra, including the graphics card, the sound card and the Ethernet card, and installed the proper drivers for them. In the past, one of the troubles in using Windows NT was the rather limited support for components such as these ones. Microsoft has fixed it as well as improved plug and play support.

The latest versions of the software programs that I use, such as Microsoft Office 2000 and CorelDRAW 9.0, run flawlessly on Windows 2000. I created the accompanying picture using the CorelCAPTURE utility. The three of us at home were also able to play several karaoke VCDs using the included Windows Media Player, and the display was just terrific.

Major Features

As the target users are businesses, the features that have been strongly touted by Microsoft are the ones that support the business environment. One that has drawn a lot of applause, is Active Directory, an entirely new way of managing resources, access and security throughout an enterprise network.

We will devote a separate article to this very complex concept, which even hardcore IT managers still find mind- boggling. A lot of analysts have even warned them to tread carefully as they implement the powerful Active Directory, and that's a clear indication of how complex it is.

Next is the Intellimirror, which is also based on Active Directory and which allows users to work using their personalized settings no matter where they are. So, for example, a traveling sales executive from Malaysia can still work with his own settings of the English Word or Excel even when he is sitting in his company's headquarters in Tokyo where they use the Japanese version of Windows.

Security has also been improved significantly. Windows 2000 uses the Kerberos protocol to replace the NT LAN Manager protocol. However, both Intellimirror and Kerberos work only in a completely Windows 2000 environment.

Windows 2000 is great for notebooks, as well. If your notebook meets the hardware demands of Windows 2000, this operating system is a good choice because of its much improved power management capabilities. Be aware, however, that Windows 2000 Professional does not support DOS-based programs, and not all Windows 98 software can run on it.

PCWeek Online reported that they found that, in some tests, Windows 2000 ran twice the speed of Windows NT. The performance (despite the huge number of code lines), the revolutionary rather than evolutionary features and the stability are just some of the main features that will make Windows 2000 a compelling operating system for the business environment, despite the rising popularity of Linux.

Several editors and contributors of computer magazines, including those who are usually very critical on Microsoft, have said that the question is not whether or not you should move your business IT environment from Windows NT to Windows 2000, it is a question of when. I agree. Unfortunately, the power of Windows 2000 does not come really cheap, though. You will find that out in three days.