Taking shots at Microsoft is a popular thing to do these days, and I have indulged in the sport once or twice myself. But I also believe in giving credit where it is due, and after several months of using Windows 2000 Professional, I can report that my initial favorable impression has strengthened with experience.
I've been enthusiastic about Windows 2000 for desktop and laptop computers (I have limited experience with the server versions) since I began running test versions last year. But since it is based on Windows NT, an operating system intended for use in corporate or academic settings, I urged caution in moving home or small-business computers to Windows 2000.
It's time to revise that recommendation. In short, unless you have a compelling reason not to switch, such as a critical program or piece of hardware that won't work with Windows 2000, it should be the operating system of choice for all business and many home computers. That's especially true for new equipment.
FEW PROBLEMS. There are two factors behind my increased enthusiasm for 2000. First, I've encountered few problems with it on a variety of equipment. Second, my disenchantment with Windows 98, the leading alternative, is growing.
Windows 98 suffers from an odd disease: The longer it is used on a computer, the more sluggish it gets and the more crash-prone it becomes. Microsoft officials privately acknowledge the problem but have neither an explanation nor a cure for it. I haven't had enough time with 2000 to be certain it doesn't show similar symptoms, but I've never had this problem with NT.
I have also found 2000 more appealing as I've had more time to consider Windows Millennium Edition, the successor to Windows 98 due out later this year. Windows ME, billed as a consumer system, focuses on enhanced features such as video editing and digital music. But Windows 98 needs a renovation of its rickety foundation much worse than it needs new bells and whistles, and ME fails to address the basic problems.
The superiority of 2000 is most evident on laptops. Windows 95 and 98 theoretically allow a computer to drop into a power-conserving sleep mode and wake up at the touch of a key. You are also supposed to be able to move a computer in and out of a docking station while powered up. Neither of these features has ever worked consistently on any laptop I have tried. The refusal of notebooks to wake up from sleep mode is especially infuriating. So far, I have found that both the suspend-and-resume and hot-docking features work every time with 2000. The combined effect is that a Windows 2000 notebook can go for weeks without the time-consuming process of rebooting.
Networking, especially dialing in to the Internet or business networks, is another huge plus. Windows 2000 makes it easy to have one dial-up networking setup for calling the office from home and another for dialing in to an Internet service provider. Windows 95 and 98 just don't do multiple setups well, even with third-party software such as Symantec Mobile Essentials.
PASSWORD MAKEUP. There are some major differences between 95/98 and 2000, mainly the result of the new system's security provisions. If you set up accounts for different users, they may not have access to each other's files. If the computer goes into sleep mode, you have to enter a password to wake it.
In addition, some old Windows programs--generally those dating back to Windows 3.1--will not run with Windows 2000. Nor will many DOS programs and most arcade-style games. Support for hardware accessories is growing quickly, but many devices that attach using the universal serial bus still lack software for 2000. The Readiness Analyzer, downloadable from www.microsoft.com/windows2000/upgrade, will check your system and tell you what devices or programs may cause problems.
Although I have upgraded a number of systems from both Windows 98 and NT 4.0, the challenge may be a bit more than many people want to take on--not to mention the $200-plus cost. But if you are buying a new desktop or laptop, it would be hard to find a good reason not to go with Windows 2000.