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Beyond Windows 2000
Although Microsoft's original release date for Windows NT 5.0 was early 1998, the OS (now called Windows 2000—Win2K) won't ship until at least first quarter 2000. But only three of the OS's four versions will ship (i.e., Win2K Professional—Win2K Pro, Win2K Server, and Win2K Advanced Server—Win2K AS). Microsoft doesn't plan to release the high-end version, Win2K Datacenter Server (Datacenter), until several months later.

In addition to Win2K's lateness, the OS seems curiously underpowered compared with NT 4.0. For example, Win2K Server and Win2K AS offer less SMP horsepower than their NT 4.0 counterparts provide. Although Win2K AS and Datacenter servers will support two-node failover clustering, you'll have to wait for Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS) phase 2 if you want true clustering. Finally, Microsoft won't commit to whether Datacenter will be a 64-bit implementation.

When Microsoft does finally release Win2K, 14 versions of Windows will exist: Datacenter; Win2K AS; Win2K Server; Win2K Pro; NT Server 4.0; NT Workstation 4.0; NT Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition; NT 3.51; Millennium (the final revision of Windows 9x); Win99 (aka Win98 Second Edition— Win98SE); Win98; Win95; Windows 3.1; and Windows CE. This plethora of OSs is overwhelming in light of the impending year 2000. Y2K's effect on the IT market is that solutions must be simple, powerful, easy to implement, and readily available—which Win2K isn't. Win2K is serving no purpose other than keeping people talking about Windows. I'm starting to wonder whether Microsoft is using the OS to conceal an agenda.

Several recent developments might shed some light on Microsoft's plan. First, the company instituted usage pricing, which is apparently aimed at the application service provider (ASP) market (i.e., people who run applications on their ISP's server). Second, Microsoft cut NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition's price in half earlier this year and is focusing on thin-client technologies, although IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle—the companies that created the thin-client concept—aren't having much success with it. Finally, Microsoft established a compulsory registration routine as part of Office 2000. After 50 uses, the software locks up and requires you to complete a free one-time registration process. This process gives you a key that lets you continue using the product, and the registration helps Microsoft increase its customer database. According to Microsoft, the company doesn't centrally store users' ID numbers, although I'm skeptical of this assertion. Another oddity is that Win2K's default file format is HTML (not industry-standard HTML, precisely, but rather a new standard that history suggests Microsoft will likely impose).

Perhaps Microsoft is just buying time until the Y2K bug hits and the company can assess the fallout. Or maybe the company knows that most users will delay adopting Win2K until the first service pack ships. I can see it now; in fourth quarter 2000, Microsoft will issue the following press release:

"A new release of Windows 2000 will ship soon to all registered users. Windows 2000 Special Edition will incorporate fixes to all reported bugs and will be the last version of Windows. The Windows model, which is based on a single-user GUI, has reached its limit. Our new OS (OS/2001), now in beta, solves this problem.

OS/2001 abandons the outmoded Windows look and feel: The new OS is built entirely around TCP/IP, HTML, and industry-standard J++. OS/2001 runs from a central server with dumb clients: We recommend a Microsoft-certified Terminal Client. The OS is free for download; registered users must simply pay an annual license fee.

OS/2001 clarifies Win2K's domain and site structures, absorbing them into the new frame of reference concept. Each local server on a distributed network hosts a frame, and the central server is the mainframe."

Win2K might be a Microsoft ploy to keep the industry buzzing until the company reveals its real game plan. Microsoft could revive centralized computing to give customers features, facilities, and reliability they never knew they wanted. The company's global domination would be ensured. In a few years' time, we might criticize Microsoft for its stranglehold on corporate IT, and we might see IBM championing the rights of the underdog. Or maybe that scenario is just too far-fetched.


Using a Diamond Monster AGP Video Card on NT 4.0
I've been using Windows NT 4.0 for 3 years. I recently upgraded my hardware to a 350MHz AMD-K6-2 processor with 3DNow! technology, an ASUS motherboard with an ALi Aladdin V chipset, 64MB of RAM, and 6GB of hard disk space. I left the Diamond Stealth PCI video card in the machine. Then, I purchased a Diamond Monster Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) video card and tried to install it.

I couldn't get NT to use the Monster card's drivers. I called Diamond's technical support three times, to no avail. The last person I talked to said I had a "bad combination" of video, chipset, and OS. He said I needed to pull the video card or use an OS other than NT. I was frustrated because I wanted to use the video card, and I didn't want to use Windows 9x.

Out of desperation, I installed NT on a 420MB hard disk and tried the video card. Amazingly, the card worked. So I knew the video card would work with my system.

To solve my problem, I logged on as an administrator, opened Control Panel, started the Display applet, selected the Settings tab, and clicked Display Type. I wrote down the names of the drivers that the Driver Information window displayed, and I clicked Change to change the video driver to Standard VGA. After I rebooted, I went to the \winnt\system32 directory and deleted the drivers I had recorded earlier. I started regedt32, searched for the driver name on the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE Registry entry, and deleted the entry that listed the driver as its value. Finally, I rebooted again and installed the Diamond drivers.

If you run into the same problem I did, you might also try a clean installation of NT as a last resort. Rather than erasing your current hard disk and reinstalling the OS, reformat an old hard disk and try the video card with a clean installation. If the video card works with the clean installation of NT, your problem is most likely related to the hard disk instead of to a hardware conflict.


Dynamic Date/Time Stamped Files in NT DOS
I wrote a simple Windows NT DOS script that builds a dynamic filename from the current day, date, and time. You can incorporate this script, which Listing 1 shows, into other DOS scripts to direct output from commands into a date/time stamped file or to rename a static file to a date/time stamped file. Because the script creates filenames based on the minute, you can use it to create a unique filename only once per minute.

Lines 2 and 3 use the for /f command to create the variables day, date, and time, which contain the current day, date, and time. Lines 4 and 5 use the for /f command to create two variables, file1 and file2. The code in lines 4 and 5 also extracts each element of the date (i.e., MMDDYYYY) and each element of the time (i.e., HHMM) and replaces these parameters' typical character separation (i.e., front slash and colon) with underscores to make the final filename more readable. Line 6 creates the variable filename, which is a concatenation of the variables day, file1, and file2, plus a file type of .log. The script then redirects output to this variable.


Yet Another Cause of an NT Crash
I recently encountered a typical Windows NT crash at a client site while installing NT Server 4.0 on a new machine. During the text-based portion of the installation in the file-copy phase from the NT 4.0 CD-ROM to the hard disk, I received an error message that said the setup process was unable to copy the file win32k.sys. The system said the file might be corrupt and asked me to insert another disk. My options were to abort the installation or skip the file. When I selected Skip, the file-copy process continued without error, but NT crashed with the blue screen of death the next time I rebooted. I reinstalled NT but received the same error message. I tried installing NT from a different CD-ROM, to no avail. I attempted to manually copy the win32k.sys file from a 3.5" disk to the \winnt\system32\drivers directory, which also failed to solve the problem.

I searched Microsoft's Knowledge Base for information, and I found several articles about NT crashes on SMP systems but only one article that specifically addressed my problem: "Windows NT 4.0 May Hang or Crash in Win32k.sys During Setup" (http://support.microsoft .com/support/kb/articles/q159/0/76.asp). According to the article, the cause of the error is that "a user mode callback occurs on the desktop system thread for a WM_SETICON message, causing the computer to stop responding." I didn't understand what this information meant, and the article didn't provide a solution. The article did say the latest service pack fixed the problem—but I couldn't use the service pack if I couldn't install NT.

I solved the problem without Microsoft's help. The machine I was trying to install NT on was a new Compaq Prosignia with a Pentium II processor, an 8GB RAID 5 hard disk, and 64MB of RAM. Before I tried to install NT, the computer was running Windows 95 without a problem. I learned from the client that the vendor that supplied the machine had added a 32MB RAM chip that was a different brand than the original Compaq 32MB chip. I removed the memory chips and replaced them with two 32MB chips of the same brand. I was then able to install NT without any errors.