Monday, March 17, 2008

Do You Need to Upgrade the Operating System or Applications? continue...

There's one good reason to go ahead with the upgrade to the Windows 2003/XP platforms: support. This issue can be a minor one if you've already prepared your own support infrastructure, such as keeping personnel trained. One inexpensive way to do this is to subscribe to Microsoft's MSDN (Microsoft Developer's Network). MSDN gives you a superset of the documentation and knowledge articles that you can get from msdn .microsoft .com. Even though the articles on the Web site may be aged out over time, you can always turn to your CDs (or DVDs, if you chose that option) to find support for Windows 2000 as the next few years go by. Microsoft also offers a subscription to TechNet, which is a scaled-down version of the MSDN subscription. I suggest that you subscribe to one or the other as your budget permits. In a large network, the MSDN subscription is a small cost to pay for the many benefits (from programming to operating systems) you'll get.


Another option you might want to consider is the Microsoft Action Pack. This is a subscription that supplies Microsoft Partners with operating systems, Exchange Server, and a few other software items. If you do not need the development tools that come with an MSDN subscription, you can at least preview newer operating systems and some software by becoming a Microsoft Partner. You can sign up as a partner by becoming a reseller, or even a consultant.

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If you already have trained personnel for the current operating system and applications, support isn't that much of an issue for your network. Yet, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP might be a good choice mainly because of the additional functionality and security improvements they provide. For example, Windows XP Professional has a user-friendly task-oriented GUI (although you can choose to revert to the classic Windows interface). Other important features of Windows XP Professional include a solution to what is called (in Microsoft documentation) DLL hell. Applications that now overwrite DLLs (dynamic link libraries) in the Windows environment (Windows 9X/Me excepted) are now stored in application-specific directories, so the core DLLs located in the system files directory remain untouched (except by Microsoft updates, of course). This can solve a lot of headaches for network administrators who are deploying new applications. So, if your network adopts new applications frequently, upgrading might be a good choice as opposed to a network that requires only minor upgrades for applications.

Windows XP also has many other new features, some that make the user experience easier and some of which solve problems that exist in Windows 2000. For example, the capability to set checkpoints and roll back to a previous state on the computer is an important one. This feature is called System Restore. If you or a user makes a change to the desktop's configuration or installs an application that causes problems, it's easy to simply use System Restore to go back to the previous configuration of the desktop without having to remove programs and diagnose other configuration changes. System Restore enables you to create these checkpoints yourself (for example, just before you make the changes), and automatically creates checkpoints on a periodic basis and when some changes are made to the operating system or applications. However, it's best to create a checkpoint yourself (a simple matter) before making changes to the desktop computer.


For more information about DLL hell and System Restore, see Platinum Edition Using Windows XP, published by Que Publishing (ISBN 07897279001.

System Restore is not a free lunch. It works by saving critical system files, including Registry settings, on the hard disk so that it will have the necessary information to restore your computer if you choose to roll back to a previous state. If disk space is important, this feature might not suit your environment. System Restore requires, at a minimum, 200MB of disk space. However, you can change this to a larger value to keep old restore points around for a longer period of time.

Windows XP is also available in an x64 version that supports the 64-bit extensions found in the latest desktop and workstation processors from Intel (processors that support EM64T) and AMD (processors that support AMD64). Although drivers must be rewritten to run for 64-bit operation, the user interface of the x64 edition of Windows XP is virtually identical to the original 32-bit version. If you need a native 64-bit edition of Windows, this is the way to go.

There are many other features that Windows XP offers for desktop users that go far beyond the scope. You might want to check out these features on Microsoft's Windows Web pages for Windows XP. There are many white papers and other documents available on Microsoft's Web site. Some changes are cosmetic—such as stacking multiple instances of a single program into one item on the toolbar when the toolbar has become overpopulated—to the new interface—to the capability to enable another user to take control of the desktop and assist a user with problems. Many of these new features are also offered by third-party products. However, if you have not yet invested in these kinds of products, you might find the features that Windows XP offers for desktop users—not to mention the features to make life easier for your help desk staff—worth the upgrade.

Windows Server 2003 versions are another story altogether. You'll find Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, Windows 2003 Enterprise Server, and Windows 2003 Web Server, as well as numerous specialized versions such as Storage Server, SQL Server, and many others.

If you support Itanium servers, there are two versions of Windows Server 2003 optimized for Itanium: Enterprise Edition and Datacenter Edition. For 64-bit (x64) servers based on Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron processors, there are three versions available: Windows Server 2003, Standard x64 Edition; Windows Server 2003, Enterprise x64 Edition; and Windows Server 2003, Datacenter x64 Edition.

With all that said, let's now get on upgrading to Windows 2000 and then Windows 2003 if your network consists now of Windows NT 4.0.


Whatever you decide, check Microsoft's Web site and examine all the white papers and other documentation available to determine whether you'll benefit from an upgrade to Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003.

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