Recent news reports about a hack that lets users change Windows XP into Windows .NET Server proves, once again, that history often repeats itself. In 1996, Mark Russinovich, a contributing editor for Windows —amp; .NET Magazine (at that time, Windows NT Magazine) discovered that the code base that Windows NT 4.0 Server and NT 4.0 Workstation share was identical. He then demonstrated that a few simple registry changes could "fool" the system into thinking that the OS was NT Server or NT Workstation. So you could, in fact, change NT 4.0 Workstation into NT 4.0 Server.

The news rocked the Windows world. Previously, Microsoft had admitted that it built NT Server and NT Workstation from the same core kernel software. The company even stated that during initial setup, each system performed specific tuning operations that determined how the product operated. However, Russinovich's techniques let you change an NT 4.0 Workstation installation into NT 4.0 Server.

From a licensing perspective, Microsoft has every right to ship different versions of a product at different prices or with different licensing restrictions. Consider the relationship between certain Toyota and Lexus vehicles, which are often identical under the sheet metal but sold for vastly different prices. A Toyota owner doesn't gain access to Lexus-only services by changing the nameplate on the car; likewise, changing NT Workstation to NT Server doesn't let you access NT Server's server-specific features.

Russinovich identified hundreds of files that had different NT Server and NT Workstation versions or were present on only one of the OS versions. I'll leave the technical discussion of these differences to Russinovich, who explained the topic in detail 5 years ago (see the URL below). But the key point is that you could change an NT 4.0 Workstation machine to NT Server, and vice versa. In fact, Microsoft tried to disable this functionality in two subsequent service packs and met defeat by new Russinovich workarounds both times. Finally, Microsoft gave up.

When Windows 2000 shipped, however, the relationship between Microsoft's desktop and server products had changed dramatically, and you couldn't apply a patch to Win2K Professional to turn it into Win2K Server. Perhaps the level of Windows' software component integration that caused Microsoft's legal problems was responsible for eliminating the embarrassing NT Workstation-to-NT Server changeover ability. Regardless of the reason, no documented method for changing Windows 2000 Pro into Win2K Server exists (or if it does, Russinovich isn't talking).

Flash forward to early 2002; another Windows desktop-to-server changeover is available, in the form of an NTSwitch.exe application that purportedly changes your Windows XP desktop to .NET Server and vice versa. Obviously, this hack is a bunch of malarkey, although that fact didn't stop the hack from receiving press during the past few weeks. I don't know why anyone would want to fool XP into thinking it was a server product, but the bottom line is that XP lacks access to core server files that you can obtain only from a .NET Server CD-ROM (and this product isn't even complete yet). After the initial euphoria over this "find" had subsided, some technical journalists looked into the hack and discovered that it didn't improve performance as advertised, although one person considered it a success because he could now install Norton AntiVirus on the Windows .NET Server beta. To each his own, I guess.

More on the IBM ThinkPad A31
I'd like to correct an error in last week's commentary about screen resolution and present more information about battery life and FireWire ports for last week's Laptop of the Month, the IBM ThinkPad A31. The A31 features a 1400 x 1050 screen, not 1040 x 1050, as we reported. We're sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused.

Regarding battery life, the A31 performs much better than I expected. Given its massive size, desktop-like components, and first-generation mobile Pentium 4 processor, I wasn't sure what to expect from the battery. However, I was able to get approximately 2 hours of battery life under typical working conditions (i.e., using Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer—#151;IE) and about 90 minutes of battery life while watching a DVD movie, although I used Windows Media Player (WMP) rather than the bundled Mediamatics player.

Also, a few readers alerted me that a FireWire port is available on some A31 models. I recommend this upgrade, although PC card-based FireWire expansion is also a possibility. Regardless, I still consider the A31 to be the finest laptop I've ever seen.

Microsoft Publishes Windows 2000 Security Operations Guide
Finally, I have a tip for Win2K users. Microsoft recently published the 192-page "Security Operations Guide for Windows 2000," a comprehensive, step-by-step approach to locking down Win2K while minimizing vulnerabilities and providing best practices for managing system patches, auditing, and intrusion detection. The guide is a must-read for all Windows administrators. For more information and the free download (amazingly, it's in Acrobat format, not Microsoft Word), please visit the Microsoft Web site.

Resources:
Inside the Difference Between Windows NT Workstation and Windows NT Server