Mold the OS to your specifications

You've just installed Windows 2000 (Win2K), and your first impression is that the OS looks quite different from Windows NT. You want to configure your new system, but first you need to know where to find the configurable options. In this installment of Getting Started with Windows 2000, I show you where to find new and familiar options that you might want to configure before you use Win2K in a production environment. These configuration suggestions apply to systems administrators and technical support personnel. End users will probably want to use the more restrictive settings that their company policy defines.

Name That Computer
I always rename my computers. Simply right-click My Computer, select Rename, and type the computer's name. Most Help desk personnel rename client computers because many users don't know how to find the name of their computer. To find the computer's name in NT 4.0, you right-click the Network Neighborhood icon and click Properties. In Win2K, this technique brings up a dialog box from which you can configure network properties, but the dialog box doesn't provide the computer's name. Instead, right-click the My Computer icon and select Properties to access the System Properties dialog box. On the Network Identification tab, you'll find your computer's name. Renaming the My Computer icon lets even the most inexperienced users know their computer's name.

Size the Pagefile
While you're browsing the System Properties dialog box, take a look at the Advanced tab. This tab is the gateway to three sets of configurable variables: Performance, Environment, and Startup and Recovery. Under Performance, click Change, then configure the pagefile from the Virtual Memory dialog box, which Screen 1, page 166, shows. Ideally, the pagefile needs to reside on a disk separate from the disk that holds the system files.

I also suggest that you set the Initial size and Maximum size fields to the same value. Be sure to choose a value high enough to give you a sufficiently sized swap file. You might want to go with the recommended default value, then use Performance Monitor to watch the pagefile and ensure that the system doesn't approach its pagefile size limit. Setting Initial size and Maximum size to the same value prevents the pagefile from growing while users access the system and from slowing users down as the system searches for and allocates space.

On the Advanced tab, you might also open Startup and Recovery and change the time frame for which the system displays the OS choices. The default 30 seconds is glacial—if you can't decide which OS you want in 10 seconds, you've been staring at computer screens for too long.

Upgrade to Dynamic Disks
New to Win2K is the concept of the dynamic disk, which lets you create dynamic volumes. The upgrade from NT 4.0's basic disk to Win2K's dynamic disk converts any existing partitions to volumes. The benefit is that you can configure and manage dynamic volumes without needing to reboot the computer. For example, you can create a spanned volume on multiple disks without rebooting. The equivalent operation in NT 4.0—creating a volume set—requires a reboot. The disadvantage is that you can't access dynamic disks from NT 4.0 or any other OS; therefore, don't perform this conversion on a system that you dual-boot. You can, however, access dynamic disks remotely from other computers. In this scenario, you don't access the disk directly; rather, Win2K reads the files and sends them back to you through its server service.

To convert your disk, right-click the My Computer icon, select Manage, expand the Computer Management console's Storage item, and select Disk Management. The right pane shows the disks on your system, as Screen 2, page 166, shows. Right-click the disk icon in the lower window. Select the Upgrade to Dynamic Disk option, choose the disks you want to upgrade, and click OK.

The next window that pops up asks you to confirm that you want to upgrade the selected disks. Select the Upgrade option, and you receive a reminder that you won't be able to boot previous versions of Windows from the converted disks. Click Yes, and you receive yet another warning: The procedure will force-dismount file systems on any of the disks you upgrade. No applications should be running while you attempt this conversion. I suggest that you perform the conversion before turning the system over to production use. Click Yes, and you get another confirmation dialog box. This dialog box informs you that a reboot will complete the upgrade process—another reason to perform this upgrade before you turn the computer over to users. (Let's hope that after you convert to dynamic disks, you won't need to keep rebooting.) Finally, the system reboots. My system rebooted twice during the conversion process.

Theoretically, you can convert from dynamic disk to basic disk. However, to accomplish this backward conversion, you need to remove all volumes on the disk and rebuild the partitions and logical drives. Of course, removing the volumes also removes the data, so you'll need to back up the volumes' data and restore the data to the partitions. Such a conversion is difficult if the disk contains your OS. I recommend experimenting on your system's second hard disk—not the first.

Configure the Event Viewer Logs
Systems administrators often forget to prevent event logs from overflowing. Go to the Control Panel Administrative Tools applet and open Event Viewer. Right-click each log, and select Properties. The default settings allocate 512KB to each log and overwrite events older than 7 days. If these settings work for you, go with them. But if some of your applications (e.g., Microsoft SQL Server) write to the log frequently, you might want to increase the maximum log size or select Overwrite events as needed, as Screen 3 shows. However, for high-security environments (e.g., C2 security), you need to select Do not overwrite events (clear log manually)—an option that systems administrators often combine with saving the log to a file for audit purposes.

Set the Date Rollover
The Control Panel Regional Options applet brings up a tabbed dialog box. On the Date tab, which Screen 4 shows, you can control how the OS handles a two-digit year. By default, the OS assumes that a two-digit year falls between 1930 and 2029. Therefore, the OS would interpret 6-6-44 as 6-6-1944 and 7-7-17 as 7-7-2017. However, you might not want to use that setting as your corporate standard, or you might have applications that follow a different standard. For example, SQL Server by default assumes that two-digit years fall between 1950 and 2049, although the DBA can change that setting. I suggest that you establish a corporate standard for date rollover.

Configure Folder Options
Win2K's default folder-option settings are as inadequate as NT 4.0's settings. You'll probably want to reconfigure these settings before you do anything else on your computer. To open Windows Explorer, right-click the My Computer icon or go to the Start menu and select Programs, Accessories, Windows Explorer. (The fact that Windows Explorer is an accessory whereas Internet Explorer—IE—resides under Programs is a mystery, given that Win2K Server is supposed to be about getting work done, not surfing the Internet.) On the Windows Explorer window's top menu bar, click Tools, Folder Options to access a tabbed dialog box. On the General tab, I recommend clearing the Web content in folders check box because this complex display probably takes processing cycles away from other tasks. The other defaults on the General tab seem reasonable. On the View tab, which Screen 5 shows, I select the Display compressed files and folders with alternate color check box so that I can distinguish compressed and uncompressed files at a glance. I also like my system to display the full path in the address bar and title bar. I always select the Show hidden files and folders check box and clear the Hide file extensions for known file types and Hide protected operating system files check boxes because those files are often the ones I need to find when problems arise. Finally, I clear the Show My Documents on the Desktop check box because I prefer to store documents on a disk dedicated to data files. After I set these options, I make sure to click the Like Current Folder button to propagate these settings to all my other folders.

Tweak Your Power Options
In the Control Panel Power Options applet, Win2K introduces power-handling options that laptop users will find familiar. The default Always On setting makes sense for a server—cutting power to the monitor after 20 minutes (or less) of inactivity is harmless, but you need to keep the computer and disks running. However, I recommend more aggressive settings for a desktop system. For example, to conserve power and avoid generating heat in your office, you might want to shut down the system's disks and video after a certain period of inactivity.

Create a Checklist
Whenever you install a new OS or add a new computer, consider following a configuration checklist to make sure that the computer meets your specifications before you turn it over to users. A configuration checklist can save time and effort later. For example, Win2K's new dynamic disk feature will prevent the need for reboots when you perform disk reconfiguration at a later date. Win2K offers many other configurable options, and you'll no doubt add your preferences to such a configuration checklist.