Microsoft has forced a cruel choice on anyone who depends on a computer to make a living. That’s especially true for those of us who work in small offices (or support telecommuters or off-site workers in branch offices).

Should you make Windows 2000 your operating system of choice? At first it seems like an easy choice: For my business, Windows 98 isn’t an option as a day-in-and-day-out OS. Yes, Windows 98 has its advantages. It’s cheap and it runs everything. Until it crashes, that is, which in my case has been once or twice a day for the past week. At the Windows 2000 launch, in fact, Bill Gates displayed a slide that showed that the average uptime for a Windows 95/98 box is a mere 2.1 days. W2K, on the other hand is rock-solid, running for weeks or months at a time without requiring a reboot or crashing and wiping out unsaved data.

That combination of stability and security is nearly irresistible, but there are some serious trade-offs. For starters, the upgrade is expensive, as I pointed out last week . More of a problem, though, is the fact that applications and add-ins you consider essential just won’t work under Windows 2000. Consider these two pieces of evidence:

Exhibit A is the low-cost sheet-fed scanner I use with ScanSoft’s wonderful PaperPort Deluxe 6.1 software to help me keep from being buried alive in receipts and press releases. At a mere $50, it’s an incredible bargain—but it doesn’t run under Windows 2000.

Exhibit B is my OnStream ADR50 tape drive . This lifesaver holds 50 GB on each backup cartridge, making it easy for me to back up everything on my network. Unfortunately, there’s no Windows 2000 driver, and the bundled software only runs on Windows 98. (Onstream claims a driver will be ready later this month.)

Add in the few odd utilities and productivity apps that don’t yet have a Windows 2000 version, and I’m forced to keep switching between two PCs. I’ve got a Windows 98 box on the right, a W2K Pro box on the left, and a Belkin OmniView KVM switch sitting between them to help me share a single keyboard, monitor, and mouse for the two computers. I don’t particularly like paying for two copies of Windows, but what can I do? It’s a shame that Microsoft didn’t pull the plug on the Win9X line two years ago. In that case, we might be looking forward to the imminent release of a consumer version of Windows based on the NT kernel. Instead, Windows Millennium Edition will keep the two incompatible flavors of Windows alive for years to come.

And now for the results of my Feb. 24 challenge . I asked TechRepublic members to help root out some undocumented setup options. These aren’t obscure options, either; even relatively new PC designs may need a BIOS update to work properly with the Windows 2000 Setup program.

TechRepublic member Craig earns the full allotment of 500 TechPoints for his complete answer:

Start the Windows 2000 Setup program and wait for the prompt that reads “Press F6 if you need to install a third-party SCSI or RAID driver.”

Press F7 to automatically disable ACPI support and allow Windows 2000 to detect and install the correct (Standard HAL) computer type. Or press F5 to display a menu of available computer types and manually choose the correct one for your computer.

A tip of the hat, too, to Igsi, who was first to point out that these switches are documented in Microsoft Knowledge Base article Q237556.

Here’s Ed’s new challenge
I’ve got a brand-new Windows 2000 server and a stack of four identical 25-GB IDE hard drives. I’m paranoid about disk crashes, so I want to be sure that I configure them correctly. Should I set up striped volumes? Mirrored volumes? Or choose the RAID-5 option? Should I even be messing with IDE drives? If you think you’ve got all the answers, click here to tackle this week’s Microsoft Challenge. I’ll award 500 points for the correct response. Don’t delay—I’ll accept answers only until Thursday, March 16.