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Roger Frost's column in 'TV Technology and Production' from when the Internet just started to get easy


Windows 2000 (April 2000)

Roger Frost upgrades to Windows 2000 and finds himself in business

The arrival of Windows 2000, Microsoft’s new operating system is a significant event. As its name implies it is millennial: it stands in an intersection of two different operating systems that have been a long time in the making.

At its core is Windows NT, mooted as the robust choice for a business PC now amalgamated with the plug-and-play features of Windows 98 that made the setting up of PCs more tolerable. When Microsoft says that the new system is reliable and easier there’s a certain logic to it. In short it sounds the Windows NT that the ordinary mortals, much championed in this column, could now get to grips with. Here then is something to want or go very sceptical over.

The new operating system sells at different levels – there is Windows 2000 Professional, the replacement for NT workstation and which works as a client station on a network or equally as a stand-alone desktop or laptop.

One could have been unlucky but here the experience was entirely positive: Windows 2000 Professional installs itself with half a dozen mouse clicks and with a little change from half an hour. It contrast to installing NT and finding one’s sound, network and modems cards needing the services of a consenting expert, this is a treat. A laptop that had misbehaved for years with Windows 98, made the right noises, found the network and was soon connected to the Internet. Good value was had.

While the new OS can be installed on top of an existing Windows system – those that can afford a clean install and set up everything from scratch might try that instead. In fact with a partitioned hard disc, setting a machine to offer a choice of booting between say, Windows 98 and Windows 2000 is pretty much done automatically. 

Beyond the desktop product is Windows 2000 Server that is aiming to become the predominant operating system on networks everywhere. This is available in sizes that suit the small office network or an organisation that spans the globe. By all accounts, networking experts will find much here while mere mortals will best leave it alone.

Those trying out the Professional edition will find that the Windows desktop has undergone a makeover that addresses some anomalies of the past. Notably the control panel becomes the true home for setting up networking, printers and options – the many settings panels that were previously scattered around the system. It’s now a one-stop shop, in particular networking and dialing-up resources are managed by a ‘wizard’ that controls connections via serial, infrared, Ethernet and modems. Similarly a new ‘Add Network Place’ wizard connects to network resources, such as shared drives, printers, FTP servers and Web servers.

The Start menu gains some customisable features – an expanding control panel to go straight the widget needed and helps with the mouse clicking. Likewise, an expanding My Documents in the menu goes right to the heart of any folder and retrieves a file within it. The personalized menus, that featured in Office 2000 now come to the Start menu itself - the system tracks the use of program icons and hides those that are less used. Dwelling briefly on the menu brings infrequently used items into view and reduces the clutter.   

A ‘web page’ preview of folders, first seen in Windows 98 and Internet Explorer, has been with improved quick and easy links to My Documents, My Computer and My Network Places and with familiarity helps with the ergonomics. There is now a My Pictures folder that not only offers a thumbnail preview, it can zoom in on a picture and get to fill the screen without launching some picture application. Similarly movie and sound files offer play controls at the side of a web page folder so they can be reviewed with a click. 

One of the neat aspects of Internet Explorer was that which allowed one to build up a set of web pages and e-mail folders that needed to be kept up to date. These offline items could be synchronised or as often as needed so that the business of say, getting mail could happen fairly transparently. If perhaps this was little used the idea takes a neat turn in the new Windows. As well as marking web pages it’s now possible to mark any folder found on another machine and make this available offline. One could for example, have a laptop synchronised with a documents folder on a second computer and thus ensure that both machines held up to date copies. It’s a bit like the My Briefcase feature where files were dragged from one machine to another but with the bonus that rationalising happens transparently. Settings in the synchroniser dialogue can determine how frequently this occurs.

Such are things on the surface of Windows 2000 – but delve deeper and it is clear that here is an operating system for professional’s machine on a network. Its administrator tools offer a scary level of control over countless aspects of the system. A bit of tweaking found some treasures – the ability to share one Internet connection across a simple network was one, setting it up to use an ISDN line so that a second line kicked in only when need was another. The degree to which things can be changed might be seen as a blessing but more it marks out a healthy future for friendlier fare like Windows 98 to develop into the operating system more exclusively the home. Here then is the significance of Windows 2000: sorting the operating system market into business and consumers instead of mortals and technical folk. 


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