Windows 2000 RC3: A Review of the Release Notes

This week's column is long; there's a lot of news to catch up on from before the Comdex trade show and Thanksgiving holidays. So get a cup of coffee and prepare for some interesting reading:

Release Candidate 3
I received Windows 2000 (Win2K) Release Candidate 3 (RC3) just before leaving for the Comdex show, so I've had little time to work with it. From the desktop end-user's perspective, RC3 doesn't seem to change much, but the release notes contain quite a few surprises. Most folks won't receive RC3; rumor has it that the final release to manufacturing (RTM) is just a couple of weeks away, but because this is the last release candidate, I think the issues bear a close look.

The change that will affect the most users is the heightened default security settings for interactive users. RC3 changes the security settings for file and Registry permissions to their default values during an upgrade. So if you (or your company) use custom settings, you'll need to reset them. This change also affects noncertified legacy applications (i.e., most existing software), which will require Power User capabilities to run. The services account that controls applications that run in the background might also need these capabilities. The release notes recommend giving all interactive users Power User capabilities.

In addition to the new security settings, RC3 has problems upgrading from Windows 9x with QEMM 98 installed; problems upgrading from NetShow 1.0; Programmable Read-Only Memory (PROM) upgrade requirements for using Win2K with Silicon Graphics 320/540 workstations; and a lot of server-oriented items including problems with Quality-of-Service, remote access, Internet Information Server (IIS), Windows Media, and Message Queuing. The release also has minor concerns involving Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) and Telephony API (TAPI) support. The release notes give instructions for increasing security by modifying the default TCP/IP and Telnet settings. The default Kerberos security policy has changed, so administrators must perform a set of manual steps to get the new policy on at least one domain controller. And this latest release contains changes to Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) components, including the elimination of the in-memory database feature.

Hardware issues in RC3 include network card compatibility problems and problems with certain ISDN and WAN adapters. Add/Remove Hardware still doesn't detect the Iomega parallel port ZIP drive; as a workaround Microsoft recommends installing the drive from Device Manager. Finally, RC3 has a note that says to comply with commercial airline requirements, you must completely shut down notebook computers running Win2K, not just suspend them.

Win2K RC3 has a long list (too long to reproduce here) of software compatibility problems. Among the applications affected are: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and ATM; Aldus Freehand; CompuServe and AOL software; Cheyenne Inoculan; dBase; Hummingbird Exceed; Intergraph DiskShare and GeoMedia; Lotus cc:Mail, Notes, Organizer, and SmartSuite; Macromedia Director; Micrografx Designer; Microsoft Encarta, Office, PhotoDraw, Services for UNIX, Visual Basic, Visual C++, FoxPro, Visual InterDev, and Visual Studio; Novell GroupWise; Panda Anti-Virus; PowerQuest Drive Image; Seagate Crystal Reports; and Symantec applications including pcAnywhere. Not all application versions are affected, and most have workarounds.

System File Checker
The System File Checker is a new feature in RC3 (at least, I hadn't noticed it before). The feature is a command-line application that scans the Win2K system directories that are covered by the new system-file protection feature. Command-line options let you control the size of the system file cache, automatically conduct a scan on each boot (which might be a good idea for those of us running dual-boot systems), and purge the cache. One obvious feature that's missing is an option to generate a log of files in the cache and the changes that the service has made to them (the Event Log might provide this functionality—I haven't checked). The command to start the System File Checker is sfc.exe.

So What's the Bottom Line?
As I write this, I've been running RC3 for only a few days and have had absolutely no trouble since I installed it. The only installation problem I encountered was a "Digital Signature Not Found" warning on the Windows NT 4.0 driver that I use for my Future Domain SCSI card. I also had to manually find the driver for that card. Other than that, installation was painless. I haven't noticed much difference in performance, and I haven't found any compatibility problems with my applications. As the only user of my system, I run it with administrative privileges (please, no lectures), so I don't know what the effect of the new security settings would have been for a nonadministrative user. I'd be very interested in reports from other RC3 users.

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