I hate to do this, but I must announce that this column is open only to a restricted readership—namely, the I'm-going-to-use-Windows NT-as-my-workstation-OS-no-matter-how-much-pain-is-involved club. I consider myself something of a charter member, having used NT 3.1, NT 3.5, NT 3.51, NT 4.0, and now Windows 2000 as my nearly exclusive desktop OS for the past 7-plus years. I'm such an NT lunatic that I've run NT even on my laptops for that long. So if you're one of those people who talks a good game about NT and Win2K but actually has Windows 98 or Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) running on your desktop, laptop, and/or home machines, then I politely ask you to skip this column—just for this month, OK? There are some great advertisements in the newsletter—please check them out, and thank you. Honest, you won't be missing a thing. See you in late December.
Are they gone? Whew—now we can talk. You know how annoying it's been over the years to listen to those Wintendo guys crowing about how all of the cool hardware and games run only on Windows 9x and now Windows Me? Sure, we fire back that at least our OS doesn't go south every 15 minutes, but for some reason they're not impressed. Sometimes, they have the temerity to point out that NT (and when I say "NT" I include Win2K, of course—a rose by any other name, and all that) runs more slowly and requires more memory than Windows. Somehow, they even found out that we must occasionally run Wintendo to get a game or a piece of hardware running—embarrassing, to say the least!
Well, I'm here today to tell you that it has been 6 months since you could even find a computer in my house or office that runs Win9x or Windows Me. For the first time, I've worked for that long without being forced to install Windows to get something done. What's different? Several things.
The first advance is Service Pack 1 (SP1). Most games need the DirectX subsystem to run, and the NT 4.0 and Win2K DirectX systems were slow and incomplete. Worse yet, they were unreliable. For example, I could actually crash Win2K by running Master of Orion II, an old DirectX game from MicroProse! But that was before SP1. SP1 includes DirectX fixes that seem to make DirectX both faster and more reliable. Master of Orion II has always tended to lock up in big space battles no matter which OS I ran it on. However, since I loaded SP1, I haven't had a lockup. Yes, you read that right: At least in my experience, the best platform currently available for DirectX games is Win2K with SP1 loaded (well, older DirectX games, that is—I haven't tried any built in the past 2 years).
You might run into some trouble installing your game because some games are hard-wired to detect your OS before they install—and they refuse to install if they smell NT. Because Win2K advertises itself as "NT 5.0," the game won't install. If you encounter this problem, copy apcompat.exe from your Win2K installation CD-ROM Support folder. It's a neat tool that lets Win2K essentially "lie" to a game's setup program, telling it, "Oh, no, I'm not Win2K, no, of course not—I'm, um, Win98! Yes, that's what I am, Win98. It's completely safe to install on me."
The second great advance is hardware. Win2K introduced USB support, which is great, but the fact is that when Win2K shipped last February, few USB devices worked on Win2K. I hate serial ports because all of my computers have one or two when I always need at least four (between the PalmPilot cradle, my digital camera, a modem, the external internal router (IR) receiver for the desktop, and any other doodads I'm playing with at the time). USB would be the answer to a prayer . . . if only I had USB replacements for those devices and an OS that supports them.
Well, now I do. My latest "Pilot" is a Handspring Prism, which syncs to my desktop via USB under Win2K. In fact, I'd have to pay extra if I wanted a serial cable rather than a USB for the Handspring. The MultiTech MultiModem USB model MT5634ZBA-USB and 3Com's OfficeConnect modem work perfectly as USB modems. And, under Win2K, dozens of digital cameras can transfer images via USB. I do a fair amount of video capture in conjunction with my seminars. I dream about taping my 2-day seminar, Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG)-izing it, and selling it on the Web, but it would be a lot of work. The first hurdle would be digitizing the hours of videotape.
NT should be the perfect platform for video capture, with its robust multitasking abilities and excellent memory management. Video needs a lot of RAM to handle both digitizing a fast incoming stream of data and then storing that digitized data on a hard disk without dropping any. But most reasonably priced video capture tools only worked under Windows. About a year ago, I discovered a fantastic video capture device called the Dazzle Digital Video Creator. This neat little tool is a hardware MPEG encoder that attaches to your PC via USB. The Dazzle does the capture right on its little chip; all your computer has to do is pick up the digitized data from the Dazzle and store it to the PC's hard disk. Result? You can do no-frames-dropped captures on something as slow as a 166MHz laptop, as long as the laptop has a USB port.
Although the Dazzle came with—you guessed it—only Win98 drivers, I recently found on the Dazzle Web site that the company sells software to let either win2K or Win9x use the Dazzle. If you buy a new Dazzle (less than $300), you get the software; if you already own a Dazzle, you can buy the software for $10. Result? The Dazzle works wonderfully with Win2K. (The company also has a $99 PC Card Firewire doodad that works trouble-free on Win2K—that's $99 complete for the board, drivers, and software.)
Of course, after you build those great MPEGs, you'll want to store them somewhere. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of opening my computer and playing engineer just to put a new backup device on my system—I like things that work with USB. Iomega's Zip 250 USB drive is a wonderful way to take a few hundred megabytes with me, and, in fact, has worked on Win2K since February. But because not everyone has a Zip, it would be great to be able to use a CD-ROM burner that attaches to my system via USB. Those prayers also have been answered—Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) 8230e CD-ROM writer is reasonably priced (I found it for about $250) and was almost trouble-free to install. The trouble? Well, for some reason, the silly HP software refused to install on Win2K Server. It would only install on a Win2K Professional machine.
Okay, so we're not completely out of the woods yet. But I think it's safe to say at this point that NT's not just for the server any more.