Talking Shop: Five benefits of using Windows 2000 Professional as your client

Consider Windows 2000 Professionals increased speed, security, stability, hardware support, and interface enhancements when deciding to upgrade.

When I first heard that Windows 2000 contained almost 30 million lines of code—75 percent more than Windows NT 4.0—I freaked out. I feared that my reliable Windows NT 4.0 Workstation would be bogged down by all manner of erratic problems if I were to upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional. I vowed not to upgrade to Win2K Pro until it was perfected by at least two Service Packs. In order to get a better idea of what to expect, I began testing Win2K Pro when Beta 3 was released. I have been very surprised with the results. Not only has Win2K Pro been much more stable than I expected, but it has made up for nearly all of NT’s shortcomings. Consequently, I am in the process of migrating 80 percent of my company’s client machines to Win2K Pro. I think there are five reasons why you’ll want to upgrade some of your clients, too.

#1: Speed
You would think that with all that code, Win2K Pro would inevitably be slower in executing various tasks. However, for many tasks, especially TCP/IP networking, it is a little speedier than Windows NT 4.0 and much quicker than Windows 95/98. My best example is Internet access. From the first time I fired up Beta 3 and connected it to the Internet, I recognized a noticeable speed difference. Microsoft does not specifically make this claim, but my conclusion is that Windows 2000 has a faster TCP/IP stack. Mapping network drives and file sharing also seem to happen a bit faster than NT4. This is not to say that some things aren’t slower than NT4. For instance, Win2K Pro takes longer to go out and grab IP information via DHCP. This and other minor slow-ups could be related to Win2K Pro’s underpinnings in Active Directory. Nevertheless, Win2K Pro exhibits a performance boost over NT4 in several areas, and it simply blows by Windows 95/98.

#2: Stability
In January 2000, ZDNet Labs performed a test (sponsored by Microsoft) comparing the stability of Windows 2000 Professional to Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and Windows 98 Second Edition. They concluded that the average uptime (measured in eight-hour work days) for Windows 98SE was 1.8 days; NT 4 scored 5.2 days; and Win2K Pro measured 90.0 days. I don’t believe that Win2K Pro is quite that stable, but I do agree with their general findings. Win2K does not need to be restarted every time you make an OS change as NT4 does, and it certainly doesn’t crash or hang like Windows 98. In testing Windows 2000 for almost a year now, I have yet to see a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). It does have some quirks here and there, especially when running the NT version of programs that are not yet “certified” for Windows 2000. In most cases, however, you can force erratic-behaving programs to close using Task Manager, and then go back, reopen those programs, and continue working. NT4 allows you to force them to quit, but going back in to work in the program usually requires a restart. All things considered, the stability of Win2K Pro increases user productivity and decreases support costs.

#3: Security
Win2K Pro provides some additional security tools for network administrators. This includes new support for IP Security (IPSec) for use in general networking and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) for virtual private networking. IPSec enables LAN traffic to be encrypted, thus protecting your data from snoopers who get physical access to a machine on your network. L2TP is the next-generation VPN protocol destined to succeed PPTP. It offers a number of security enhancements over PPTP, including integration with IPSec. Also, like NT4 and unlike Windows 95/98, you can set up Win2K Pro so that no one can gain access to the machine without a valid username and password, which is extremely important since it has been shown that the most costly network attacks come from inside a network rather than from external attacks.

#4: Hardware support
In the area of hardware support, Windows 2000 makes the most significant improvement over NT4 and nearly catches up with Windows 98. Microsoft deserves credit for putting significant research and resources into building a wide library of drivers for Windows 2000. On only a few occasions have I needed to provide third-party drivers for hardware on a machine running Win2K Pro. I have yet to use [F6] at startup to provide drivers for a hard disk controller, and I have never had any problems with a network card in Win2K Pro. These two improvements alone have saved me a significant amount of time and headaches. Part of the advantage is that, like Windows 95/98 and unlike NT, Windows 2000 supports Plug-and-Play. To my delight, I discovered that the Win2K PnP is much more accurate and reliable than Windows 95/98 PnP. Last but not least, I cannot mention hardware support without including laptops. Win2K Pro’s laptop compatibility and performance has been well publicized. Win2K Pro supports many advanced laptop functions, such as power management and online/offline synchronization. I’ve been running Win2K Pro on my laptop since Release Candidate 2, and there’s simply no going back.

#5: Interface enhancements
Win2K Pro is truly a mix of both NT4 and Windows 98 interfaces. If you predominantly use and support NT4, you’ll initially be frustrated when you try to use your favorite tools and shortcuts in Win2K Pro. After the initial learning curve, however, you’ll find a number of nice interface enhancements. Two of my favorites are the network connection icons and the new Telnet feature. The Network and Dial-up Connections box, shown in Figure A, now includes icons for each type of connection (LAN, modem, VPN, and so on). When you go into Properties for these connections, you can select Show Icon In Taskbar When Connected to display a handy little icon in the lower-right corner, as you can see in Figure B. The icon shows you the status of the connection. This is very helpful for troubleshooting.

Another new interface feature that I like is that you can Telnet to other computers from within the command line interface instead of opening into a new program when you issue the telnet command. The new Telnet feature has a much more UNIX-like feel to it. Also, nontechnical users, especially those with experience in Windows 95/98, should be able to find their way around the Win2K Pro interface much easier than in NT4.

Figure A
Network And Dial-up Connections

Figure B
Connection icon in lower-right corner of screen

The hardware issue
As good as these benefits sound, I do admit that they come with a price. With all of these features, Windows 2000 requires that you throw a lot of hardware at it in order to make things run smoothly. My minimum hardware recommendations are as follows:
  • 200-MHz Pentium II processor
  • 64 MB of RAM
  • 3 GB hard disk

This is for a standard user machine that runs a productivity suite of applications, an Internet browser, and e-mail program, and one or two line-of-business applications. For machines using more advanced software, such as Adobe programs, CAD, desktop publishing, and/or graphics software, I would recommend the following:
  • 300-MHz processor
  • 128 MB of RAM
  • 5 GB hard disk.

In addition to hardware requirements, when choosing which machines to upgrade to Win2K Pro, you also need to consider the function of the workstations. The two models mentioned above, a standard user machine and a power user workstation, are both excellent candidates for Win2K Pro. If you have machines that run only one or two applications and machines that fall below the hardware requirements, you should consider migrating them to Windows 2000 Terminal Services client. The combination of Win2K Pro and Terminal Services client can certainly lower your support costs and total cost of ownership. Microsoft has been making some bold claims in this regard, and fortunately, it’s not just a case of the Microsoft marketing machine merely blowing smoke.

In my opinion, the only other reason not to give Win2K Pro strong consideration is if some of your key software has known problems running on the OS. I recommend that you check on your software vendors’ Web sites before upgrading to make sure that your programs will run on Windows 2000.

One more benefit that I should mention as a footnote: Win2K Pro does play nice and perform well in a network with non-Windows servers, such as UNIX and NetWare boxes. Windows 2000’s UNIX integration and compatibility are better than NT’s in most cases, most notably with rlogin, Telnet, LDAP, and DNS. Also, Microsoft has issued Windows Services for UNIX and Windows Services for NetWare, specifically aimed at improving integration. There are some good tools in these packages; however, in the case of NetWare, most network admins recommend using the Novell-supplied Windows 2000 client for connecting Win2K Pro to NetWare servers.

I have to admit that I am a certified junkie when it comes to testing OS clients. In the past year, I have lab-tested and/or worked with a myriad of OS clients, including Win2K Pro, NT4, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Mac OS 9, Mac OS X beta, Red Hat Linux, Corel Linux, Caldera OpenLinux, and SuSE Linux. I definitely like certain things about some of the other clients, especially Mac OS X and Red Hat Linux (using a GUI of Nautilus with Helix GNOME). As much as I would like to see Microsoft challenged on the business desktop, however, the fact remains that the challengers have a lot of ground to make up. Windows 2000 Professional is the best OS client for businesses that Microsoft has ever produced. Until the Wweb browser usurps the importance of the OS client in the next few years, Win2K Pro will be the top dog.
What is your experience with Windows 2000 Pro? If you'd like to share your opinion, start a discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.

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