Start Windows 2000 Sucks the Really Big One Stop Tray

All About Microsoft Windows 2000
or, "just say NO".

And so begins the story of Windows 2000:

It started out one morning just a week after the release of Windows 2000, when I needed to re-partition my Compaq DeskPro 6000's hard drive.  In my zeal, Partition Magic 4.0 somehow damaged NT 4.0 enough to keep it from starting, and even to prevent it from being repaired.  I stared down at the hypnotic holography on the Windows 2000 Professional CD and decided it was time to bite the bullet...

I thought that the office's three year old Compaq workhorse would be a good testing platform, since the Deskpro 6000 had a 200MHz Pentium Pro, 160Mb of RAM and a few wide SCSI HD's in it.  I move all my data to another hard drive and started clean.  It took one hour for Windows' installation routine to fill up the C:\WINNT directory with over 600Mb of files.  The installation went smoothly however, requiring very little interaction.  Reboots take twice as long now, but hopefully I won't be needing many of those?

Looking immediately to save some space, I tried to delete Outlook Express.  This is no longer an option in Windows!  You're apparently stuck with Outlook Express, like it or not.  Then I wanted to install a few applications from our network, except that the registry key for the Network Applications location that has worked fine since Windows95 was merely alpha, no longer works.  Oh, but at least the Pinball! application from Microsoft's Plus Pack is now part of the standard install.  What else could anyone ask for?

A quick sanity check in Device Manager showed that the auto-detection process was only mediocre.  My Plug'n'Pray monitor and display adapted combo was not seen as such (but the 60Hz default scan rate isn't distracting though), the parallel-port Connectix Color QuickCam was detected verbatim but no driver existed for it, my Yamaha SCSI CDR disappeared entirely, and I had to manually add the cheapo game port card.  The Compaq's crappy (ESS) sound hardware worked fine though, as did my 2Gb DAT tape.

Undaunted, I plowed on ahead.  Office 2000 Professional ate another 250Mb of hard drive space with the required selections, and then since man cannot live on Microsoft software alone, I wisely stopped to review some of my options.  I knew that the hardware scrapes would only be the beginning.

I didn't surprise me much when Symantec would require that my 5.0 version of Norton Anti-Virus be updated ($$$), and it wasn't too shocking that AutoSOCKS (a product for SOCKS proxy traversal, and an absolute must-have for my work) would also require replacement ($$$), but I started to get annoyed when I discovered that Adaptec's EZ CD Creator 3.5, which I only received a few months ago, would require upgrading to the Adaptec's piggy, buggy new 4.0 version ($$$), and that the requisite 4.02 patch wasn't even out yet, and that Adaptec's web site has confusing and contradictory information about what works and doesn't work, or what works just so-so.  After that grief, it wasn't surprising at all that EZ-SCSI 5.0 was also rendered completely worthless (and with no apparent upgrade plans).  At the moment, I can't find ANY CD writing software that is stable or recommended under Windows 2000.  Stac's Reachout Enterprise - another must-have for my work - is also some time away from being compatible.  In the coming weeks, I'll have to find out how well the software upgrades work out.

While I pondered the third-party problems, I began hammering at Microsoft Office 2000.  Plagued by random lockups, FrontPage weirdness, and transient system hangs, I clicked on the Windows Update icon.  In spite of the many months that Office 2000 has been shipping, there's still no service pack.  On the other hand, Windows 2000 already had updated software available the very week it was released!  Disgusted as the downloads finished, my thoughts turned to my other PC's.

"What about my PC at home?  Or even my laptop?".  Silly thoughts.  Perhaps the laptop won't work out so badly, slightly hobbled perhaps by its piddling 64Mb of RAM, except that I would no longer be able to hot-sync my Palm-V via infra-red until Palm and Microsloth come to some kind of an understanding.  Strike 2.

Windows 2000 won't be happening on my home PC in any hurry either.  3Dfx's drivers for my TV3500 video card aren't due for their first release until close to May 2000.  Since it took three updates of those drivers before the runway lights could be seen at night in Flight Simulator 98, and these drivers still have bleeding problems when using the TV hardware, I'm not going to get my hopes up too high.  Then assuming 3Dfx delivers, I still have to worry about the Intel motherboard's Yamaha sound system, a Nakamichi CD changer, Yamaha CD writer, a Pinnacle Systems DV300 firewire/SCSI card, a Motorola internal VoiceSurfer ISA modem (big hint: Motorola stepped out of the consumer modem biz over a year ago), and a SanDisk USB CompactFlash reader.  My scanner, an HP 4c, is apparently supported in Win2K by the 2.8 version of DeskScan, for which HP forced me to pay $20+S&H a year ago and then posted it for free on their web site several months later.  And finally there's my Microsoft Force Feedback Pro joystick but, they wouldn't be stupid enough not to have drivers for that, would they?  Strike 3, regardless.

Microsoft, YOU'RE OUT!

Many manufacturers seem to have been caught with their pants down regarding Win2K driver development and support.  Only a few web sites mentioned Win2K compatibility, and most of those indicated that support was still at least several weeks away.  Worse yet, it looks like Windows 2000 is being used as an opportunity to force consumers to upgrade their software and even replace their hardware.  If that's the price of admission, I'll find a cheaper theatre.

In actual usage, Windows 2000 seems to be a mixed bag.  If you've grown sick of Windows 98's terrible memory management but needed plug'n'play, or grown sick of NT's lack of plug'n'play, then Windows 2000 is for you.  There's no such thing as a free lunch though, so you'll need at least 32Mb to 64Mb more RAM to make up for Windows 2000's substantially larger memory footprint.  Also, 2000 takes twice as much disk space as NT did, and so do any tools that you may want to install.

Windows 2000's selling points are alleged to include faster booting and a better interface.  I can't measure any improvement in boot time, and the interface is considerably more sluggish now too.  I guess the interface improvements have nothing to do with speed.  I can do without the drop-shadow'd mouse pointer, thanks.  Whoever makes the interface decisions needs to be shot.  Although it's easy enough to move the shortcuts around, I can't understand why the Command Prompt AND WINDOWS EXPLORER were moved to the Accessories submenu.

Windows 2000 Professional users who wish to administer networks will be directed to find a Windows 2000 Server CD and run an Administration Tools install from there.  You cannot find the tools on Microsoft's web site.  The documentation insists that the tools will install a shortcut from Start|Programs, but you can only find the tools by digging into Control Panel's Administrative Tools shortcut.  Then you'll discover that there are no tools included to manage "old" NT domains.  For that, you must spring for the Windows 2000 Resource Kit.  You'll also find that like most of the administrative tools have been converted to the MMC (Microsoft Management Console) concept.  Microsoft did not have the time to convert everything however, so choosing some tools in the MMC spawn the old Windows GUI version tools (such as the RAS tool).

When you install the Windows 2000 Resource Kit, it does give you a shortcut from Start / Programs.  This only leads to an Explorer web window showing enhanced directory shortcuts to the various tools.  If you're like me, irritated that everything under the sun now has to look like a web page, you'll be sickened by this too.

Windows 2000 does manage to sport a few useful improvements.  One is the encrypted file system.  NTFS "security" was a joke to anyone with a DOS boot diskette.  Unfortunately, you cannot have files both encrypted and compressed.  Also, there's no way in Explorer to casually identify folders or files with the encrypted attribute set - no option to set encrypted items to a different color the way you can with compressed items.

Another "improvement" is that Windows 2000 finally gives you back FAX ability, with simple but thankfully uncrippled software.  Those of you who "upgraded" from Windows 95 to Windows 98 without doing an over-the-top upgrade know exactly what I mean.  I'm certain that Bill Gates got a huge kickback from the authors of WinFax for that bright move two years ago.  2000's FAX software can use your modem or a variety of network/gateway TAPI drivers (not that any have really been standardized yet).  You can also include a simple cover page or make your own.  Oddly, our DOS heritage still shows somewhat here, with a cover page template named "confdent".  You can choose immediate or scheduled sending.  I prefer to call this feature a "correction".

I can hardly wait to find out what Microsoft has broken next!  It's not the 65,000 known bugs that worry me - it's the other 100,000 unknown bugs that really have me on edge.

 

June 2000 Update

Here it is, now nearly four months after the release of Windows 2000, and I've finally gotten the nerve to try it on my home PC.  I've had some time to work with it elsewhere and discover just some of the in's and out's, and even though I knew perfectly well I was in for a bumpy ride, my impression hasn't changed much

After a motherboard upgrade left my Win98 installation mis-detecting its sound drivers with no apparent workaround, I decided to brave a Windows 2000 installation there...

Being that my home equipment is somewhat more up-to-date than the stuff at work, I've discovered the joys and pains of ACPI - Advanced Configuration and Power Interface.  It sounds promising, doesn't it?  It's not.  If all the peripheral card manufacturers would play nice and stop making PCI hardware that hogs interrupts (contrary to PCI spec), and write their drivers completely to spec, perhaps it would be OK.  But to have six or seven (or more) devices all sharing IRQ 9 and leaving 7, 10, 11, 14 and 15 completely untouched seems a bit insane.  Instead with ACPI, firmware is supposed to referee all those conflicts instead of software, and with questionable results.  You can use a "Standard PC" OS kernel instead of the ACPI kernel and revert to the Windows 9x approach for doling out IRQ's and managing them with the BIOS and software, but Microsoft warns you not to use Device Manager to do it.  They recommend a complete re-installation of Windows 2000!  (You have to press [F5] during the hardware detection phase and select the "Standard PC" kernel.)

Plug 'n Pray didn't work too badly.  Of course my IEEE-1394 ("Firewire") controller failed to install because of the lack of native drivers, and Pinnacle Systems has been disgracefully slow to roll out a new driver package for their DV300.  The Microsoft Force Feedback Pro joystick, although it failed to auto-detect, installed manually just fine.  The price of admission there is forfeiture of the Game Device Profiler software (Win9x ONLY), so your force functions can only be controlled via DirectPlay games that support that joystick's force functions.  The TV3500 video card worked in crippled mode (no TV) with Win2K's native drivers, but worked very nicely with the latest beta drivers from 3Dfx.  The old Motorola VoiceSurfer 56K modem works fine (you can buy these fine Rockwell -based devices for $15 now), but the status window shows terminal speed instead of negotiated speed when connected, and Windows seems to believe it's voice capabilities are not full duplex.  The HP scanner auto-detected fine, as did the CD-ROM's.  The motherboard's Yamaha sound system did auto-detect, but is missing the enhanced stereo DSP features that existed in Win98.  Intel has been promising logo'd Yamaha sound drivers for weeks, but the promises have been empty.  The last item was the Sandisk USB CompactFlash reader.  It works just fine, and prompts Windows 2000 to give you a little icon in your system tray that lets you politely remove or disconnect USB and PCMCIA devices.

Dial-Up Networking in Windows 2000 is amusing, if you must connect to Windows NT 4.0 -based networks.  It's bad ol' Bill's way of compelling your employer to invest in Windows 2000's Active Directory.  DUN connections you see, prior to Win2K, used to inherit a relatively full set of networking parameters from your RAS server.  This included WINS server addresses, DNS server addresses, etc.  In Windows 2000, WINS server information does not get brought in unless it just happens to live on the same machine as a Win2K DNS service.  This leaves you unable to participate in an NT 4.0 network, since WINS helps your PC find where your browser masters, domain controllers and other resources are.  If you manually specify a WINS server to make this work, you also have to manually specify DNS servers as well.  This makes DUN connections difficult to configure and tedious to maintain, unless you have Win2K all around.

Network subnetting seems vastly improved however.  DUN gets along seamlessly now with TCP/IP -based home networks now.  Gone are the annoying unwanted appearances of the DUN connection dialogue when printing to local TCP/IP printers or accessing shares on other local TCP/IP hosts.  Routing in general seems far more intelligent and reliable.

Now onto the nitty-gritty...  All that IRQ sharing with ACPI is far from a cakewalk.  The SCSI subsystem showed some instability until I replaced the native video drivers with a beta set from 3Dfx.  The symptom reared its head in the form of what appeared to be DMA faults after trying to use the Disk Manager.  Only rebooting would return the machine to normal when this would happen.  But the real fun happened with the Pinnacle Systems (miroVideo) DV300.  This is a combination firewire controller with Adaptec 2940UW SCSI card.  The beta driver for this came out on 5/31/2000, and seems to be more of an alpha product than beta.  Pinnacle had promised drivers by the end of May; they didn't promise the drivers would be usable by that time.  Installing Pinnacle's beta driver in an ACPI system instantly causes horrific faults in Plug'n'Play and leaves you with an unbootable system.

The good news is that using the "Standard PC" kernel works wonderfully.  IRQ assignments still seem a bit queer however, with some sharing between devices even when suitable free IRQ's are available.  And Windows 2000 doesn't let you touch the assignments like 98 did, ACPI or not.  I could also manually enable APM and still get at most, but not all, of Windows 2000's power management features.  No more SCSI troubles and even the Pinnacle DV driver manages not to crash.

Finally, boot-up time is indeed quicker on this system, but I wonder if it's only because I haven't had time to load it down with all that crap that I had on Windows 98.

All in all, I'd like to keep Windows 2000 right now but can't afford to do so until Pinnacle makes some release -quality (note I didn't say release level) drivers available.

 

 


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