The kit is now a formidable resource

The latest supplement to Microsoft Windows NT Server Resource Kit is now in bookstores everywhere, although the package contains no books. Microsoft Windows NT Server Resource Kit Version 4.0, Supplement Two (hereafter Supplement Two), a two-CD-ROM set, expands on the information in the original resource kit and its first supplement.

The resource kit is an invaluable tool for power users and network administrators. Occupying a niche between product documentation and software development kits (SDKs), the resource kit contains extensive documentation about the NT operating system and useful utilities that fill some of the NT tools' operational and administrative gaps.

Microsoft Press markets and sells the resource kit and the resource kit's supplements, and these products have a distinct advantage over their competitors because the information comes directly from Microsoft. Many other books on the market derive their information about NT from the resource kit.

The Real NT Documentation
Supplement Two's CD-ROMs contain all the information from the original resource kit, Microsoft Windows NT Server Resource Kit Version 4.0, Supplement One, and Microsoft Windows NT Workstation Resource Kit. Therefore, if you are comfortable using online documents instead of printed manuals, you can use Supplement Two as your comprehensive NT resource guide. Supplement Two's documentation is in Windows Help format, which makes it convenient for searching and browsing.

Table 1 summarizes Supplement Two's updated operating system reference guides. These reference guides reflect the changes that Service Pack 3 (SP3) and updated device drivers have made to NT.

Supplement Two includes new documents that focus on the use of Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) with NT's Remote Access Service (RAS) to create Virtual Private Networks. VPNs use public TCP/IP networks, such as the Internet, to connect remote users to an NT network server. This connectivity lets branch offices and traveling clients bypass expensive leased-line or long-distance telephone connections to gain secure access to the corporate network. If the firm's server is on the Internet, a client can create a VPN by connecting to a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) and having the ISP transmit the user data to the server using PPTP's encryption capabilities.

Microsoft Windows NT Server Resource Kit Version 4.0, Supplement Two
Author: Microsoft
Publisher: Microsoft Press, Redmond, 1997
ISBN: 1-57231-626-8
Price: $49.99

Supplement Two also contains information about using the X.25 protocol with RAS. NT 4.0 includes both X.25 and PPTP capabilities. Until Supplement Two's release, no documentation existed for these functions.

Resource Kit Tools
Many users and network administrators purchase the resource kit for its extensive documentation and neglect its software. However, the resource kit and its supplements come with a large collection of useful applications, utilities, and other programs.

Supplement Two contains all the software from the previous resource kit releases (including updates of many of the programs) and an assortment of new utilities, which Table 2 lists. Microsoft makes some of the included software (such as Internet Explorer 3.02 and SP3) readily available online, but many of the other tools are exclusive to the resource kit.

The resource kit's utilities range from the trivial to the powerful. Supplement Two's CD-ROMs include a selection of entertaining desktops, which combine wallpapers with sound effects, and an editor with which you can create your own animated cursors. However, the majority of resource kit tools address the needs of network administrators and power users seeking to streamline or automate maintenance and configuration tasks.

One of the goals of Supplement Two's software is to provide users with command-line alternatives to NT's GUI utilities. For example, the Netdom.exe, DNScmd.exe, and Reg.exe tools let administrators manage NT domain accounts, Domain Name System (DNS) records, and Registry settings, without using graphical applications such as User Manager for Domains, DNS Manager, or a Registry editor.

These alternatives to NT's GUI utilities benefit veteran network administrators who prefer command-line operations. Another advantage of character-based utilities is that you can use them in batch files or scripts that can run unattended. The resource kit provides support for the Perl 5 and Regina REXX scripting languages and a collection of POSIX utilities. With these tools, you can create scripts that automate complex systems and network administration tasks using Registry modifications, event log data, and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) automation.

Other resource kit utilities provide a window to the inner workings of the operating system. Supplement Two's Dependency Walker program scans a selected Win32 file and displays a listing of all the ancillary modules the file needs to run, as Screen 1 shows. The program also displays the functions each module exports and lists other modules that are using those functions. (For a comprehensive list of the applications and utilities in the Supplement Two CD-ROMs, see "NT Resource Kit Applications and Utilities" online at http://www.winntmag.com.)

Microsoft TechNet
Supplement Two also contains a sample edition of TechNet, which Microsoft usually sells through subscriptions. TechNet is an extensive technical information resource for Microsoft products that includes Service Packs and other software upgrades.

The TechNet sample includes hundreds of Microsoft Knowledge Base entries, user manuals, resource kits, and technical articles. These documents cover NT and a wide range of other applications and operating systems, including all versions of Windows, Microsoft Office, and BackOffice. You can access the compressed TechNet documents using TechNet's viewer. The viewer's expandable tree display, shown in Screen 2, sorts the documents according to the products and subjects they address.

By adding TechNet to Supplement Two, Microsoft Press has made the resource kit into a formidable and affordable NT support package. The two CD-ROMs contain nearly 1GB of software and documentation for one-third the price of the original resource kit.