Ready, set, upgrade! Or maybe not.

After playing with several Windows 2000 (Win2K) beta versions and release candidates (RCs), I thought I had a pretty good handle on installing Win2K. As with any prerelease software, I came across recurring bugs, regression errors, and annoyances. Microsoft fixed most of the problems in later versions, and my experience became more pleasant.

One thing, however, hasn't changed: Win2K takes a long time to install. Regardless of the hardware I install the OS on, when I get to the last stage, in which the installation routine performs a cleanup and makes the final settings to the software, I have time to go out for coffee and maybe lunch.

Hardware performance doesn't seem to matter. For example, the installation of Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro) takes just as long on a Dell Precision WorkStation 410 with 550MHz dual-Pentium III processors as it does on a much slower Micron 233MHz Pentium processor notebook. Hardware configuration doesn't seem to matter either. Whether the OS needs to discover just the bare-bones PCI devices or every populated PCI slot on the motherboard, the installation drags on. At one point, I thought I might be able to attribute the final stage's slowness to a Win2K compatibility problem: Several systems I installed the OS on weren't on the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). However, the problem was also apparent on compatible systems.

I decided to use the Microsoft Win2K Readiness Analyzer to see whether it could determine the reason for the lengthy installation. With this tool, you can check your systems for compatibility before you buy Win2K. The tool is available from the Microsoft Web site and also comes on the installation CD-ROMs for Windows 2000 Server (Win2K Server).

When you run the Readiness Analyzer, it expands its files, installs them, and generates a report that lists the items that might affect your Win2K installation. Afterward, the analyzer politely uninstalls its files. Some information that the analyzer generates is quite useful, some isn't so useful, and some is downright confusing.

After I installed Win2K Pro on a Dell workstation drive (different from the drive that held Windows NT Workstation 4.0), I ran the analyzer and received a half-dozen warning messages. The warning messages said that the standard Dell and 3Com system management software wasn't Win2K-compliant and that the OS would disable this software unless I upgraded it to Win2K-compatible versions. Of course, because you can't install Win2K drivers on NT (you need to upgrade the drivers after installing Win2K), the advice wasn't very useful.

The analyzer also said my video and printer drivers weren't Win2K-compatible and suggested that I upgrade them. In this case, the analyzer said the OS would automatically replace the drivers with Win2K versions during an upgrade installation. To obtain more information about the video and printer drivers (i.e., Hewlett-Packard's HP LaserJet 6 printer and Number Nine Visual Technology's Revolution IV accelerator), I followed the links to the vendors' sites and learned that the Win2K drivers are on the Win2K distribution CD-ROM.

The most confusing message that the analyzer returned was regarding a 3Com agent. The analyzer said that the agent wasn't Win2K-compliant and that I needed to provide a compatible one. The message also said that if I didn't have a new version, I could leave the agent because it might work. However, it might not work correctly.

The only completely understandable message the analyzer returned was in regard to Apple Computer's QuickTime 3.0. The analyzer said the program was incompatible with Win2K and that I needed to upgrade to QuickTime 4.0 before installing Win2K.

After following all the advice that the analyzer provided, I performed an upgrade installation of Win2K Pro. Although the installation took as long as any other Win2K installation that I'd performed, it went very smoothly.

The analyzer hasn't decreased the installation time but has been helpful in the migration of my office systems to Win2K. One home-built system ran the Win2K installation but refused to perform the final reboot into the fresh OS. Instead, the system ran in an endless loop: It ran the boot loader, then performed an unexpected reboot. I ran the analyzer software on the Dell system's NT 4.0 installation and received two messages. The first message said the boot drive in which NT 4.0 resided didn't have the necessary free space (650MB) to install Win2K. The second message said I needed to upgrade the Adaptec AAA-133 SCSI adapter's driver. A quick trip to Adaptec's site gave me the unfortunate news that Adaptec wasn't supporting the AAA-133 under Win2K; therefore, I needed to upgrade to a AAA-133U2 at the "deeply discounted" price of $299. The expense for a new SCSI controller didn't dismay me as much as the prospect of opening the case, installing the controller, and recabling the nine SCSI devices. For now, the system retains NT 4.0 because the upgrade wasn't worth the aggravation.

In another case, the analyzer identified a software problem. The analyzer said I couldn't install Win2K until I removed the software for Eicon Technology's DIVA T/A ISDN modem. I tried to remove the software, but the uninstall program wouldn't run correctly. Another application had likely deleted or modified a file that the uninstall program needed. To get around the problem, I went to the vendor's Web site, downloaded and installed the 4MB application, then ran the uninstall program. This process was annoying, but it solved the problem.

Keep in mind that the Readiness Analyzer doesn't uncover all the problems you might encounter during a Win2K upgrade. I ran the analyzer on an AMD-based shared-memory motherboard (which borrows video memory from system memory), and the analyzer reported that the system was ready to upgrade to Win2K. The upgrade went smoothly and the system worked fine until I tried to stream audio across my network and use this computer for playback. Playback was inconsistent, and Win2K reported that the system had lost its network connection. This problem didn't occur when the same system ran the same audio application under Windows 98 Second Edition (Win98SE). So, despite a promising report from the Readiness Analyzer, the system's hidden problems made it unsuitable as a Win2K client.

Here's a tip for administrators who upgraded Win2K beta and RC systems to the final release code. You've probably noticed that the lower right-hand corner of the screen displays the message Windows 2000 Professional (or Windows 2000 Server), build 2195. This message replaces the previous Evaluation Copy message. When you perform a new installation, rather than an upgrade, that message doesn't appear. To delete this message, you need to edit the Registry. Go to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop Registry key and change the PaintDesktopVersion value from 0x1 to 0x0. To display the message, change the value from 0x0 to 0x1. However, if you want to know what OS version you're running, you can just run the Winver command from the Start menu's Run option. You'll be happy to learn that you're running Win2K 5.0, so you can stop worrying about the bugs that are present in the first version of any software. Of course, Microsoft didn't release NT 1.0 or Win2K 1.0.