Many People Judge a Book by Its Index; In This Case, They Will Not Be Misled.

Windows NT Unleashed
Windows NT Unleashed stands out from the crowd of books on Microsoft's high-end operating system. While many books are offered as replacements for the software manuals, Windows NT Unleashed supplements the documentation. It skips the usual explanations of applets such as Clock, Notepad, and Paintbrush, which are familiar, intuitive, or little used. Instead the authors concentrate on the features which make NT attractive to the individual power user and the corporate systems administrator. They assume that you are comfortable with Windows 3.1 and Windows for Workgroups. The intended audience is the computer-literate person who wants to understand NT, not just follow keystrokes. This is not a book for dummies.

The book is divided into four parts, each of which can be used individually, depending on your level of knowledge and needs. This approach results in a little overlap, although you benefit from the different emphasis shown by each author.

The first section, written by Robert Cowart, is an introduction to Windows NT. It explains the major differences between NT and previous operating systems, including preemptive multitasking and multithreading. Then Cowart puts NT in perspective, showing how it fits with DOS and Windows 3.1 and how it fits, or competes, with OS/2 and UNIX. This leads into a discussion of NT's advanced features such as networking, support for multiple CPUs, and NTFS (the NT file system).

The introduction continues with an overview of NT's architecture, which introduces you to more of the features that make NT so powerful, including compatibility, extensibility, scalability, and portability. Once you understand the basics, it's time to log on. Cowart assumes that the Windows interface is familiar and concentrates on the differences, which mainly center on networking files and applications. Print Manager is discussed in some detail, since it offers far more options and capabilities than Windows 3.1 or Windows for Workgroups.

Sharing data receives a similar comprehensive treatment. Attempts to use Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) on Windows 3.1 often ran into system resource limitations. NT doesn't have this problem, making it an excellent platform for producing compound documents.

Unless you've used Windows for Workgroups, the NT Mail and Schedule applications will be new, so Cowart describes how to use them effectively.

The second section of the book, also by Cowart, covers NT System Administration. It starts with NT installation, setup, and configuration, assuming that the installation is usually done by an administrator or from a network installation sharepoint. Hardware issues are dealt with comprehensively, including IRQs, Direct Memory Addressing (DMA) channels, I/O port addresses, and memory addresses. While it's true that NT autoconfigures pretty well, knowing about these topics makes troubleshooting easier if you have problems.

Much of a system's configuration takes place via the Control Panel and the various applets found there. Colors, Fonts, Mouse, Keyboard, etc. will be familiar to Windows users. But items such as Network, Cursors, Server, Services, and UPS are new in NT and so are given more attention. In fact, after a brief mention in the Control Panel discussion, Cowart devotes more space in the next chapter to the Server applet, along with the User Manager, Disk Administrator, and security options. He introduces features that are new in NT (e.g., Disk Administration introduces topics such as striping and volume sets).

Optimizing NT is treated in an interesting way. The hardware used and its configuration can make a substantial difference. Cowart discusses how to optimize the hardware, with advice on topics ranging from wait states to upgrading the motherboard and CPU. Most of this advice applies to any PC, although one or two suggestions are questionable. Cowart recommends buying the fastest memory available, on the premise that you can always use it on a new motherboard. Based on personal experience, I agree with other writers who suggest that some older motherboards that need 80-ns memory may be unable to refresh 70-ns memory quickly enough, causing memory errors.

The final chapter in this section may help to avoid many problems and diminish the feeling of frustration you get when bad things happen to good computers. In particular, you should be comfortable with the Event Viewer and the concept of the repair disk. One big disappointment is that there are only eight pages about the Registry, almost an afterthought at the end of the chapter.

It could be said that messing with the Registry is only for experts or dummies. However, there are times when it's necessary for an administrator to edit Registry entries. If you know how to browse the Registry, it's often possible to go directly to the cause of a problem, or the reason for the system's behaving in a certain way (see "Registry Secrets" on page 37). The Registry deserves its own chapter in a book of this level.

Part III of this book was written by Howard Marks. It begins with an overview of NT networking, which actually is a good introduction to networking in general, using the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) model. The next chapter explains how to design, install, and configure the network. This description applies to any network: If the physical and data-link layers are not functioning correctly, the rest of the network is useless. Marks then continues with a discussion of peer-to-peer networking, workgroups, and domains. He shows how to share data and printers--highlighting how NT builds on the Windows for Workgroups approach.

Most NT users will be in a domain with a domain server. After describing what is different about Windows NT Server, Marks explains how to create and manage a domain, with user profiles, global and local groups, and domain trust relationships. NT Server offers additional data-protection and fault-tolerance features, such as disk mirroring, RAID Levels 0 through 5, striping with parity, and so on, all of which are clearly explained. Connectivity is also a strong point for NT Server, with the Remote Access Service (RAS) and the ability to integrate into other networks or coexist with other operating systems. These topics also receive the same clear treatment, although you need more detail before actually implementing these connections. The discussions on optimizing and troubleshooting the network are not extensive, but you should have few problems if you follow the recommendations given in the preceding pages.

Part IV, written by Alex Leavens, is entitled "Windows NT and the Future." It begins with a brief discussion on porting Windows 3.1 applications and writing new applications. An overview of multimedia follows, including video accelerators, sound cards, and CD-ROM drives. It wraps up with a discussion of where NT fits in Microsoft's strategy and how it compares with other operating systems. Leavens summarizes many of the ideas presented earlier in a conversational rather than technical tone. The fourth author, Arthur Knowles, updated the book for Windows NT version 3.5 and did so thoroughly.

Windows NT Unleashed has a thorough and extensive index. Many people judge a book by its index; in this case, they will not be misled. Although the overall standard of the book is high, there are occasional lapses, such as when the author defines asymmetric multiprocessing as the ability to run on a number of dissimilar CPUs or CPUs running at varying speeds. One error that would qualify as a major blooper is the statement on page 40: "According to Microsoft, the writing of Windows NT's several hundred thousand lines of code represents several hundred hours of work." We can only hope that Bill Gates does not read this book, as he is probably under the impression that Dave Cutler and his staff put in the equivalent of several hundred years of work.

Windows NT is a complex and sophisticated operating system, and this book helps to make it understandable, accessible, and productive.

Windows NT Unleashed, 2nd Edition
Authors: Robert Cowart, Howard Marks, Alex Leavens, and Arthur Knowles
Publisher: SAMS Publishing, Indianapolis, 1995, ISBN 0-672-30685-9
Price: $39.99, 950 pages