Windows 2000 Professional's Minuses Outweigh Plusses in Five-Day Ordeal

As Mark Kellner wrote recently in the opening of his widely cited Los Angeles Times column ("Linux's Minuses Outweigh Plusses in 14-Day Trial", published on 12/28/2000), here's the story so far.

I decided to see whether I could successfully install Windows 2000 Professional on a computer that had been running Linux quite nicely, thank you, for nearly four years. Of course, this was a flagrantly stupid thing to do, given that the Windows 2000 Professional docs insist that you shouldn't even try to install the software without first making sure that one's hardware is fully compatible. But I've gotten Linux to work successfully with less-than-compatible hardware, and part of my experiment was to find out just how flexible Windows 2000 might be in this respect. So, I moved all my data off Lothlorien, my well-loved but somewhat elderly Linux-powered PII-400, wiped out Linux and installed Windows 2000 Professional. I mean, I tried to.

The experiment failed. Although Lothlorien readily accepted and ran Red Hat Linux 5.2 through 7.0, it greeted Windows 2000 with all the enthusiasm of a patient rejecting an incompatible organ transplant. In a futile attempt to get Windows 2000 to run, I attempted to upgrade my motherboard, succeeding only in zapping the BIOS. In the end, I had to buy over $500 of new hardware and a copy of Windows ME to get Lothlorien working again. I lost days of work, came close to committing a crime, suffered through innumerable crashes and lost my temper repeatedly--and Lothlorien still isn't functioning with anything close to the stability it had when it was running Linux.

What's wrong with this picture? In case you miss my point, I'm not trying to bash Microsoft or Windows 2000. I know that Windows 2000 installs very nicely on fully compatible, up-to-date hardware. In addition, I'm not claiming that any of what follows is Microsoft's fault, really. I made mistakes, didn't read the docs as well as I should have and made dumb decisions, the most glaring of which, I am sorely tempted to say, is the one that launched this entire endeavor. Arguably, my hardware is flaky, even though Linux had no trouble running it. But, darn it, Microsoft has gazillions to spend on improving the installation experience and legions of talented programmers. Shouldn't a user such as myself be able to install Windows 2000 Professional successfully--even when my hardware isn't 100% certified by the hardware compatibility list? After all, I've pulled this trick on Linux a few times. Admittedly, I wouldn't claim to be a technical genius, but I am good enough to install Linux--many times, with varying distributions, on a variety of systems--without experiencing more than passing difficulties that I was, in each instance, able to resolve successfully. And Linux, as you know, is supposed to be so hard to install!

WARNING: What follows is not for the faint-hearted; you will encounter graphic depictions of hardware incompatibilities, irrational decisions and fits of rage. Vivid descriptions of motherboard destruction may prove disturbing to young computer users. Do not try this at home!

Day 1

Looking back, the decision seemed reasonable at the time. My employer, the University of Virginia, had the temerity to demand that I return the Windows-powered notebook system I had been using. I try to stay conversant with the three leading operating systems, Windows, Linux and Mac OS, and, suddenly, I no longer had a Windows system around. But I did have two systems running Linux, and one of them, dubbed Lothlorien in my Middle Earth-inspired network, now seemed redundant. I purchased a copy of Windows 2000 Professional and forged ahead.

I figured I'd be back on-line within two hours, maybe three. But the gods have ways of punishing hubris.

The first time-consuming ordeal followed quickly after I inserted the Windows 2000 Professional CD-ROM to begin the installation process. Although my system had no trouble booting from Red Hat CD-ROMs, it wouldn't boot from the Windows disc. I solved this easily enough. I borrowed my son's Windows-powered notebook, made a Windows 98 emergency disk and booted from Drive A.

Next, I attempted to use the venerable DOS fdisk utility, one of the utilities provided on the emergency disk, to repartition my hard drive. After all, there's no need for all those Linux-specific partitions which would map out as separate drives in the Windows universe. But fdisk kept telling me that the extended partition contained drive letters, which it damned well didn't, and refused to delete the existing partitions. In the end, I rebooted with my Red Hat Linux CD-ROM, initiated an install and used the Linux version of fdisk to eliminate the unwanted partitions. Microsoft has apparently done absolutely nothing with fdisk since the utility first appeared, back when most of you reading this column were in diapers, most likely. Anyway, I was now ready to switch to the CD-ROM drive and start the Windows 2000 Setup utility. When I did, I was asked to type in my verification code.

The next ordeal was moral and legal. I am ashamed to admit this, but I came close to committing a crime.

Never one to keep my personal space all that neatly organized, I had misplaced the Windows 2000 Professional CD-ROM jewel box and, with it, the all-important verification code which is printed on a sticker that is, in turn, glued to the jewel box. I spent a frustrating hour looking for jewel box, without success. The Windows documentation provided a number to call if you can't find your verification code, but it turned out to be the piracy hotline, and I feared they wouldn't believe my story. Of course, I had also misplaced the receipt for the program purchase along with the jewel box.

Another member of my family, who must remain anonymous, handed me a list of verification code numbers that he'd found in a few minutes of web searching. I came darned close to using one of them, which would have been, of course, a heinous criminal act, despite the fact that I own a lawfully purchased copy of Windows 2000 Professional. You'd think they could put a copy of the verification code number in the manual! Fortunately, the jewel box finally turned up. I typed in the number, and all was well once again.

From there, things seemed to go smoothly. (Ha!) After about an hour of disk-grinding, the early afternoon saw Windows 2000 Professional on-screen.

The first impression? Terrible. Windows 2000 Professional didn't detect my video adapter and, as a result, I was looking at a 640 x 480 display with 16-color resolution. Also not detected was my SCSI adapter and, in consequence, my Zip drive and CD-ROM drive didn't work. From my sound card issued an occasional shriek along with ominous buzzing noises.

When seasoned Linux users run into problems of this sort, they drop everything and go on-line to find the answers, which is just what I did. What a shock! In place of the Linux community's abundant self-help resources, I found a series of rather sleazy commercial sites, loaded with blinking GIF animations, popup windows, demands for site registration and something like user discussion, but none of them offered usable help. One search brought up a site with what appeared to be a user posting, an individual pleading for help with his Zip Zoom SCSI adapter and Windows 2000. But there weren't any replies other than a tip to visit site such-and-such, where all your answers will be found, as long as you register and provide intimate details of your finances and web browsing behavior. There are exceptions, I'm sure, but the Windows 2000 on-line community seems to have, in general, the moral and spiritual qualities of your average porn site.