By Aaron Waychoff
Well, it's coming up pretty soon now. Assuming Microsoft sticks to the most recent release date, Windows 2000 Professional, Server, and Advanced Server should be out in stores in a few months. And what we all ask is, "Do I want it?," and, of course, we answer "YES!". But what we all really need to know is, "Do I need it?" And that's a definite maybe.
OK, so here's some background: Windows 2000 Pro, Server, and AS are really the new, vastly rewritten versions of Windows NT. They're based on the old kernel and, in a lot of respects, behave like NT. But these are new operating systems, baby, and you can't ignore it. (As a note, Windows 2000 "Standard" is rumored to be coming out sooner, but it's based on the 95 and 98 kernels instead of NT)
Imagine, for a second, that the Good Witch of the North comes into your house at night, waves a magic wand over your computer, and suddenly gives you all the user-friendly, hardware-friendly, and game-friendly features of Windows 98 but then makes it truly robust, virtually eliminates crashes, and makes it so your little brother can't mess up your settings. Too good to be true? Expect a house to drop on you first? Well, Windows 2000 tries to do just that. Minus the magic wand.
For you Windows NT users out there, this part is going to be old news, but hang in there, the next paragraph is for you.
There are some new features in Win 2000 that basically carry over from Win NT 4.0 that are going to make people's lives much, much easier. Security, security, security. I'll say it again: Security. Something Windows 98 knows almost nothing about, Windows 2000 integrates completely. How about an actual secure file system, with permissions you can assign to keep people out of where they don't belong? How about the ability to keep other people from changing your network options, or changing system settings? How about making it absolutely necessary to log in before using the computer at all? Well, all this and more is waiting, in a box, on a CD, as Windows 2000.
Of course you can have that right now, as Windows NT 4.0. What makes 2000 better? Well, it's all those things from 98 that NT has been missing. Like true plug'n'play support (with a hardware wizard!), better device management, excellent administration tools, and, check this out, Direct X 7. Yup, Microsoft's high-end operating system finally supports a modern version of Direct X. (More modern, in fact, than 98)
So, that means it plays games, right? Well, yeah, we can say that. But it doesn't mean it'll play them all. Or even many. But a few. Yeah, a few work fineŠ
Here's the problem with games and Windows 2000: the games think that it's still NT. So it's not really Windows' fault. I'll explain. A lot of games out there use Direct X for their graphics, sound, etc. Well, there have been so many versions of Direct X that the games have to check to see if the installed version is new enough to support all the features it needs. Right? Well, a lot of games take a shortcut in determining the version of Direct X installed. They just check to see if they are running on NT. Since NT has traditionally supported only one version of Direct X, and not completely, the games assume that, if they are on NT, Direct X isn't supported, and they balk, quitting the install, saying they only run under 95 or 98.
The rub is that this isn't really true! If the games would detect the Direct X version instead of the operating system, they would see version 7 is installed. Newer than anything they could need! So, although most games would probably run fine under Windows 2000, we will never know, since their install programs won't let them try! Interestingly, if you do happen to have a game that does not use the registry in Windows to store information, you might be able to run the game under 2000 anyway. Some work, like Motoracer. Some don't, like Thief.
So far, the games that do agree to run on 2000 do so perfectly. The Windows game controller interface works great, and the video card drivers, even in beta, seem to do well. So we know that Direct X games work, and very well, under 2000. The question is whether we can get the game manufacturers to start doing their system checking correctly!
Now, it's one thing to say a game runs under Windows 2000. It's another to say it runs well. The good news is that, with the games I could run, they ran well. Very well, in fact. The video performance is truly excellent considering that only beta drivers are available. Though there seems to be some problem with the Riva 128 chipset "stuttering" on graphics (we think this is a PCI bus problem) my TNT performed wonderfully. In addition, disk performance will blow you away. NT has traditionally excelled at SCSI disk systems, with the 9X twins performing best with IDE. No more! 2000 has not only improved SCSI disk performance, but it now easily lives up to the IDE performance of 9X. This means more data off the disk faster. Just what today's games really need. And it won't bring your processor to its knees, either.
And, of course, one other aspect of 2000 that will make your games more pleasurable is the ease of network configuration. With an improved interface for adapter, protocol, and client configuration, LAN gaming will see faster setup times and fewer configuration hassles. And the Dial-Up-Connections (now integrated into networking a little better) provides for much easier configuration, simpler and faster dialing, and full support for modem sharing. Yup, modem sharing built in! That means your home LAN can now share a single connection with no additional software. It's much more complete, too, than most third-party solutions. By using Network Address Translation, it actually looks like client machines are on the internet, rather than behind a proxy. Imagine, connect your entire home LAN to your buddy's across town (or the country) and play networked Quake all night long!
You're probably asking "when's he gonna tell us if we should buy it?" Well, right now, but you might not like the answerŠ Maybe! If you are a serious, hard-core gamer, like that's what your computer is for, then there's probably no reason to change to 2000 Professional. Go for Standard and stick with the 9X line. If you game on the side, or security is important to you, then you have really two choices: First, get Win 2000, hope all your games run, be very happy with the new robustness and security. Second, Get Win 2000, keep Windows 9X for games, and reboot to switch.
Of course, since this is beta software, and the industry hasn't had a lot of time with it, anything and everything could happen between now and the release. Check back for updates!
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