Windows 2000: The First 100 Days

SAN FRANCISCO (05/26/2000) - We asked readers to share their first impressions of the new OS: good, bad, or ugly. Upgraders love the stability and power, but they hate the installation hassles.

People mostly say the same things: It's the best version of Windows yet. It never crashes. I love it! Now if only it supported my scanner...

Melding the stability of Windows NT with Windows 98's slick interface (and some of its hardware support), Windows 2000 is the power user's dream operating system. Despite the remaining gaps in hardware compatibility and a street price of $219 (Windows NT upgraders can send in for a $70 rebate), Microsoft Corp.'s latest business-strength operating system is flying off the store shelves, selling 1.5 million copies in its first two months. The fact that it is outselling all versions of its NT predecessor suggests that it must be winning some converts from Win 95 and 98.

To see how well Windows 2000 has delivered on Microsoft's promises, we informally polled PCWorld.com visitors on their experiences with the upgrade.

Most of them were happy with Windows 2000--especially with its stability.

Almost unanimously, they reported none of the system crashes and performance-sapping memory errors so common with Windows 95/98. A few noted that (like its Linux rival) Windows 2000 had not once required rebooting.

The catch, though, is in getting Windows 2000 installed. Whereas Windows 9x embraces just about any hardware configuration it meets, Windows 2000 raises red flags right and left. And since the new OS comes with fewer hardware drivers than Win 98, your chances of a rocky installation are pretty good.

Most Web site visitors we polled reported compatibility problems or installation glitches with Win 2000. Because drivers for older products are a low priority for many hardware makers, our survey participants often were planning to maintain dual-boot PCs so they could switch between Win 2000 and Win 98 when hardware incompatibilities arose. A few had given up on Windows 2000 completely.

Good Vs. Evil

Several readers wished that Windows 2000 were cheaper, but when we asked if they would buy it again having gone through the upgrade, the overwhelming majority said yes. Though a few mentioned improvements to the interface and new under-the-hood features, the chief reason given for their approval was Windows 2000's stability: Most users said they'd never experienced a single crash, freeze, or lockup--a welcome change from the frequent reboots required with Windows 98.

International Data Corporation vice president Dan Kusnetzky says that the corporate users he surveys report much the same thing: Windows 2000 is reliable, stable, and a good performer. "On those issues, Microsoft seems to have hit right on the mark," says Kusnetzky.

But to achieve such satisfaction, upgraders must first navigate an unpredictable and occasionally rough installation process. Scott Murray, a software developer in Vancouver, British Columbia, installed Windows 2000 on his office computer with nary a hiccup. So when he decided to try it on his home PC, he wasn't prepared for the nightmare that followed. "Everything seemed to be going smoothly," Murray recalls, "but after the system had copied the necessary installation files to the hard disk and rebooted, I received an error message that stated the 'ntkrnl' file was corrupt." Murray rebooted and reinstalled the OS from scratch but ran into the same error.

After replacing the CD-ROM drive, trying a different Windows 2000 CD, running hard disk diagnostics, and repartitioning and formatting the drive, Murray still got the error. He finally traced the problem to the system's motherboard.

At the motherboard manufacturer's insistence, he installed several BIOS updates that eventually left his computer totally unusable.

"I got painted into a corner, so I did what any customer who has enough money does," he says. "I went and bought a competitor's product." With the new motherboard in place, Murray was able to install Windows 2000 without major problems.

Murray's experience isn't unique. According to Austin Watson, president of TTCX--The Test Company in Bellevue, Washington, some PCs are simply "evil" while others are "lucky." Watson, whose company performs Windows Hardware Quality Labs testing for Microsoft and hardware vendors seeking the "Designed for Windows" logo, has seen his share of recalcitrant systems and devices. "We have an older laptop that I put in the 'evil machine' category," he says, adding that the manufacturer told him to give up on trying to install Windows 2000 on the laptop. Meanwhile, he was nicely surprised when the operating system installed like a charm on an aging Toshiba portable. "It's the best-working OS I've ever put on that laptop," he says. Although there's no easy way to tell if your PC is a Windows 2000 lemon, Microsoft has posted a list of systems known to be compatible.

Hardware Hang-Ups

Sometimes the overall Windows 2000 upgrade goes fine, but specific components don't work right. Dave Matthews of South Bend, Indiana, gave up on Windows 2000 after experiencing loud pops and clicks in the Macromedia Flash animations he creates. Matthews tried to trace the problem to his PC's Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live audio card, whose drivers were installed automatically by Win 2000. He found updated drivers on Creative's Web site and installed them--to his immediate regret.

"Those nasty things locked up Windows 2000 completely," he recalls. Matthews had to restart his PC in Safe Mode to remove the new drivers. After scouring newsgroups for help, he realized that simply reverting to Windows 98 Second Edition was an easier solution. A Creative spokesperson said the company hadn't heard of the problems Matthews experienced.

The problem in cases such as this, explains TTCX's Watson, is that hardware developers scrambling to create new drivers for Windows 2000 can't just reuse existing Windows 95 or 98 driver code, which by now is comparatively mature and stable.

Readers were often dissatisfied with Windows 2000's video-card drivers as well, noting that many support Microsoft's Direct3D but not the OpenGL spec required for high-end gaming. Inveterate gamer Steve Watts of Westerville, Ohio, claims that Windows 2000's implementation of DirectX--Microsoft's audio and graphics-acceleration technology used primarily in games--contains a serious bug: When a game running on his PC in full-screen mode crashes, he can't get back to Windows 2000's graphical interface to take control and kill off the frozen game.

A Microsoft spokesperson could not comment on the specifics of the DirectX problem, except to emphasize that Windows 2000 is intended as a business product. Microsoft recognizes that power users and game enthusiasts may realize advantages from Windows 2000, but they use the OS at their peril. The company is sending a decidedly mixed message, however: Many of the first Windows 2000 updates on Microsoft's Windows Update site focused primarily on game compatibility (see "Essential Tool Kit for Win 2K Upgraders" on page 56.)Storage SnafusWindows 2000 users have also encountered two major problems in the area of storage. The OS works fine with most of Iomega's popular Zip drives, but the company's parallel-port models weren't supported until Iomega released updated software. Users of Adaptec's Easy CD (software for recording CDs) must upgrade to version 4.02 to burn discs under Windows 2000. Worse, an error in the DirectCD packet-writing driver (which lets you treat a CD-RW drive like a hard disk) resulted in one of the few "blue screens of death" reported under Windows 2000. (Adaptec has since fixed the bug via updated drivers.)But the largest pieces missing from the Windows 2000 hardware puzzle--in our informal survey, at least--seem to be printers and scanners. Our survey respondents reported that a wide variety of both types of peripherals did not work as expected (or at all) under the new operating system. Furthermore, some manufacturers have stated firmly that they will not be dedicating scarce development resources to creating drivers for older and discontinued devices, many of which were developed for Windows 3.x/9x and had never even run on Windows NT.

The people we polled also reported that plenty of applications failed to run under Windows 2000--from antivirus programs to games to the software that syncs a desktop computer with a Palm device. In many instances, software developers have already posted their own Windows 2000 compatibility updates. In situations where product-update patches are not available, users are left with only two alternatives: Give up the application altogether, or dual-boot between Windows 98 and Win 2000.

Are You Professional?

Though the steady stream of new drivers and compatibility updates is making the upgrade to Windows 2000 easier, Microsoft and its system-vendor partners don't seem terribly interested in selling the operating system to home and small-office users. According to Naila Seif, director of strategic alliances for Compaq's Commercial PC Computing Group, Windows 2000 is the flagship OS on Compaq corporate machines but is available on only two of its retail systems--both geared toward small businesses. Similarly, while Dell offers Windows 2000 on all its business-oriented OptiPlex and Latitude PCs (and on its Inspiron notebooks), availability for its consumer Dimension desktops is spotty. In general, PC vendors appear to be sticking with Microsoft's vision of which computers should ship with Windows 2000 and which with Windows 98.

By fall, Compaq and Dell will undoubtedly offer Microsoft's Windows Millennium Edition (aka Windows Me) on their consumer machines. The latest operating system in the Windows 9x line, Windows Me promises greater reliability than Windows 98, along with a few new features to attract upgraders (see "More Thrills, Few Thrills," www.pcworld.com/jun00/millennium).

IDC's Kusnetzky, however, predicts flat growth for Windows Me as businesses move to Windows 2000--or choose to wait instead for its successor. Code-named Whistler, that version should appear at the end of next year.

An OS To Count On

If Windows Me continues Windows 98's legacy of compatibility at the expense of stability (which wouldn't be surprising, considering that it still uses Windows 98's shaky code base), tech-savvy consumers may pass it up as well. More than one of our survey participants bristled at the seemingly arbitrary distinction between consumers and business users. "I have no patience for the constant errors that I encounter using Windows 98," states Stephen DiLorenzo of Rochester, New York. "I have been told over and over that an NT-based OS is for businesses, but I think home users are just as entitled to stability and reliability. A person surfing the Web and someone creating a spreadsheet are both entitled to operating systems that run without constant glitches."

Compaq's Naila Seif grudgingly agrees. "Reliability," she says, is something that everybody cares about. Consumers at home need even more reliability because they don't have an IT organization to support them."

Whistler may put an end to the 98-versus-NT dilemma by combining the best of both operating systems. But if you don't want to wait, the early reports on Windows 2000 are generally favorable. Just do your homework first: Make sure that your PC and its BIOS, peripherals, and applications are listed as compatible on Microsoft's Upgrading to Windows 2000 site; also check the manufacturers' sites, which may have more-current information. When in doubt, make a full backup, uninstall any products known to be incompatible, and pray that the rest are lucky, not evil. If your installation problems boil down to one unsupported peripheral, you may have to decide which you like more: the new OS or the pesky hardware. Scanners are pretty cheap these days--you can always buy a new one.

Essential Tool Kit for Win 2K Upgraders

About to bite the Windows 2000 upgrade bullet? Before you do, take a glance at these update tools, Web sites, and downloads.

General Information

NT Compatible: Get the latest user-supported scuttlebutt on what's now working under Windows 2000--and what's not. www. ntcompatible.comWindows 2000 Compatibility Updates: This mini-service pack makes Windows 2000 compatible with 48 different applications, most of them games. www.microsoft.com/ windows2000/downloads/deployment/ appcompatWindows 2000 Readiness Analyzer: This free 2.6MB utility download tells you how well both your hardware and your software will fare under Windows 2000 before you buy it. www.microsoft.com/windows2000/ downloads/deployment/readinessDriver And Software Updates, InformationAdaptec DirectCD for Windows update: www.adaptec.com/support/advisor/cdrupdates/dcdwinversions.htmlAdaptec Easy CD Creator update: www.adaptec.com/support/advisor/cdrupdates/ ecdcversions.htmlHP LaserJet/Windows 2000 compatibility: www.hp.com/cposupport/printers/support_doc/bpl07374.htmlHP ScanJet/Windows 2000 compatibility: www.hp.com/cposupport/scanners/support_doc/bps03528.htmlIomega Parallel Port Drive update: www.microsoft.com/windows2000/downloads/recommended/q251381/default.aspIomegaWare 2.2.1: The Windows 2000-compatible version. www.iomega.com/software/featured/windows2000.htmlPalm Desktop Software and Product Compatibility With Windows 2000: www.palm.com/support/helpnotes/win2k.htmlPartitionMagic 5.01 upgrade: www.partitionmagic.com/updates/pm501updates.htmlSymantec Products/Windows 2000 compatibility list: service1.symantec.com/ support/tsgeninfo.nsf/DOCID/20000 11107215039A for Stability, D for AudioName: Dave MatthewsLocation: South Bend, IndianaProfession: Macromedia Flash animatorWhat he liked about Windows 2000: Never required rebooting; Lock Computer, Task Manager, and other controls are available by pressing <Ctrl>-<Alt>-<Delete>.

What he didn't like: Buggy audio drivers constantly popped and crackled; updated drivers locked up system.

One PC Worked, One Didn't

Name: Scott Murray

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Profession: Software developer

What he liked about Windows 2000: Installed smoothly on office PC; supports larger NTFS partitions.

What he didn't like: Nightmarish installation on home PC; third-party hardware makers' lack of knowledge about Windows 2000, coupled with their lack of support for the OS.

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