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Industrial-strength Windows upgrades to 2000

Microsoft's follow-up to Windows NT is geared for the workplace. A consumer version is in the works.

By JOHN TORRO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2000


Windows 2000 makes it debut this week, after more than three years in the making and numerous delays.

But even Microsoft says home users shouldn't rush out to buy it. Windows 2000, Microsoft's upgraded and renamed Windows NT operating system, is geared for the workplace with its powerful networking features and NT-based security. Microsoft is working on the new consumer version of Windows, called Millennium.

Home users tempted to upgrade should be aware that some hardware may not work without updated device driver patches, and they will need new anti-virus software made specifically for NT/Windows 2000. Other issues include cost ($175 for the upgrade version, $285 for a new installation), software compatibility and increased random access memory and hardware requirements.

Part of the reason for the delays in releasing this latest version of industrial-strength Windows was Microsoft's promise to get the complex project "absolutely, positively right," in chief executive Steve Ballmer's words, before it was released.

After two years of working with the beta versions, as well as checking out the finished product for the past two months, I have to say it looks as if Microsoft got it right.

Businesses will have four versions of Windows 2000 from which to choose: Windows 2000 Professional (formerly Windows NT Workstation), Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, and, in June, Windows 2000 Datacenter, built for the largest companies.

Windows 2000 Professional builds upon the best features of Windows 98, combining its ease of use with the power and security of Windows NT. Its user interface has been changed to make it look like Windows 98, yet Windows 2000 has jumped ahead of Windows 95/98 with additional user-friendly interaction.

For example, Windows 2000 studies the way you use applications and notes which menu options you use the most. It then modifies the Start menu and Internet Explorer to display only these options. The other options stay hidden until requested. This quickly became one of my favorite features.

The new Windows is also an important upgrade for notebook computer users who connect to networks. No longer will mobile users need to be experts in device driver installation and management. Windows 2000's plug-and-play hardware management, along with its Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), makes it a better platform for notebooks than Windows 95/98 (known collectively as Windows 9x). It has standby and hibernate modes that conserve battery power.

The Synchronization Manager allows mobile users to take network-based folders with them and then re-synchronize with their desktop PC. The new operating system can encrypt files by generating random keys. That way, if a laptop is stolen, the files won't be accessible without proper authentication.

At the core of Windows 2000 is the Microsoft Active Directory, maybe the most important improvement made. You can think of such directory services as the main switchboard of the network operating system. It manages the relationships between users and network resources such as printers, servers and security devices.

Active Directory is structured according to the standard Domain Name System (DNS) hierarchy in place for larger companies' Internet identities. It offers a more natural model for large companies to arrange their network resources.

It replaces Windows NT 4.0's inefficient and difficult system for administering and expanding a network.

Windows 2000 demonstration

Microsoft will hold a Windows 2000 kickoff event Thursday at the University of South Florida Special Events Center in Tampa. It will include demonstrations and a live TV feed of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates discussing Windows 2000 from San Francisco. The event, from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., is free, but registration is required. Call (877) 673-8368, or go to http:\\events.microsoft.com. The event code is 28821.

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