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Exploring 2000 - International assembly
(April 1999)
Bob Walder examines Windows 2000 installation and its multi-language facilities
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This article is based on NT 5.0, Beta 2.

Deploying a new operating system in the corporate environment can be a nightmare. It is bad enough with server operating systems, where even fairly small organisations can have tens of servers lying around. But where an OS covers both server and workstation – as with Windows 2000 – deployment of the resulting hundreds or even thousands of copies across the enterprise can be a real headache. And it’s not just the initial rollout that causes problems. What about Service Packs and other updates? When it comes to setting up a new workgroup, the administrator not only has to install the base OS, but also has to remember to apply all the relevant Service Packs, an additional step that simply extends the amount of time spent at each desktop.

Installation of NT has always been easier than most other server operating systems, but for some time it has left something to be desired when it comes to installing on the desktop. It might offer more in the way of performance, reliability and security, but for notebook and desktop users, Windows 98 can often be easier to deploy thanks to the support for plug and play and a wide range of hardware options.

Moving towards the Windows Driver Model


The aim for Windows 2000 is to move towards the new Windows Driver Model, a single binary for both Windows 98 and Windows 2000. The new driver model should also provide support for legacy hardware as well as the newest plug and play stuff. Broad hardware support will be available for a wide range of hardware which is common in workstations, such as sound cards, advanced video cards, scanners, audio cards, digital cameras, USB devices, DVD and games controllers, to name but a few. Unlike plug and play support in Windows 9x, the Windows 2000 plug and play implementation does not rely on an Advanced Power Management (APM) BIOS or a Plug and Play BIOS. These two BIOS implementations were designed for Windows 95 as early attempts to support plug and play power management, and will be maintained in future versions for backward compatibility only. Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) will provide these services for Windows 2000.

This evolution is largely a result of the OnNow design initiative, which seeks to define a comprehensive, system-wide approach to controlling system and device configuration and power management. The idea behind OnNow is that for the PC to become a more integral part of daily life, both in the office and at home, it must be instantly available to answer the phone, display new email or browse the Internet. As with other everyday appliances, the PC must be always on and ready for use, but appear to be in the ‘off’ state when not required. The PC hardware must thus be capable of responding immediately to the ‘on’ button, network or communication events, and other actions – without the typical 5 minute delay while it goes through Power On Self Test (POST) routines and OS loading.

Finally, the PC must be capable of returning to its ‘off but ready’ state automatically, and must be able to survive the abuse served up in daily life. Where would we be, for example, if we returned home to find our freezer had suffered a General Protection Fault and all our supplies were dripping over the kitchen floor? One product of the OnNow initiative is the ACPI 1.0 specification which defines a new system board and BIOS interface that extends plug and play data to include power management and other new configuration capabilities, all under complete control of the OS. So, having determined that Windows 2000 will be that much more tolerant of our hardware configuration, are there any other strides being made towards the goal of simple upgrade and installation?

Deploying Windows 2000 should be straightforward


Well, early indications seem to suggest that deploying Windows 2000 in the enterprise will be very much more straightforward than with previous versions. For a start, the new set-up technology provides a seamless upgrade from NT3.51/4.0 and Windows 9x, and ensures installed applications migrate seamlessly. This is the most important point for the network administrator, since it means that it is not necessary to install every workstation from scratch. Previous versions of NT Server have been happy upgrading from earlier incarnations of their own kind, but have never been able to migrate from other desktop offerings such as Windows 9x. It is claimed that Windows 2000 will offer a seamless migration path from both, subject to a pre-upgrade check for hardware and software compatibility.

The biggest problem is in migrating Windows 9x applications that have file dependencies and registry differences. The new set-up routines will attempt, wherever possible, to replace Windows 9x-specific binaries with Windows 2000 versions, and will migrate Windows 9x-specific settings too.

Installation can be fully scripted to provide unattended installation. It is possible to create multiple configuration options in the script files to provide more control over the final installation, and a ‘Run Once’ section allows further customisation of installations. The new Set-Up Manager automates the pre-install process by allowing creation and modification of unattended files, and creation of a distribution share on the network. For those organisations lucky enough to have a consistent range of hardware, Windows 2000 finally provides full support for disk duplication to simplify rollout. This allows the administrator to create a ‘standard’ installation on a single machine, take an image of that disk partition and then copy that to other similarly specified machines to generate new Windows 2000 installations from scratch in just minutes.

Disk duplication


A new utility – SYSPREP.EXE – readies a disk for duplication following installation of the base OS and key applications, leaving critical parameters such as SIDs in a ‘limbo state’ ready to be initialised when they are copied to the target machine. That is as far as the out-of-the-box software takes it, however, since you still need to purchase third-party disk duplication software such as Symantec’s Ghost to complete the remaining steps. Once the image of the source installation has been taken with Ghost, this is transferred to the target machines, and they are re-booted.

As they boot up for the first time, a unique SID is generated for the machine and the user is prompted for a computer name, user name and an admin password. All this can be scripted if required, further automating the entire process. The only caveat is that mass storage controllers must be identical between source and target machines, though all other plug and play devices (such as audio cards or modems) will be detected and properly installed on first boot-up. Installation is fully scriptable and Service Packs are slipstreamed into the installation process. This is a huge new feature, and removes a significant burden from the administrator’s shoulders. In essence, new Service Packs can be placed into an install share on the network, causing the appropriate Pack to be applied automatically at install time with no intervention required from the administrator. Service Packs are also handled much more intelligently by the OS in general, meaning that it will no longer be necessary to reapply a Service Pack after changing key system components.

Finally, if there should be a need to troubleshoot an installation, there will be a new Safe Boot feature similar to that seen in Windows 9x. This can be accessed using the F8 key during start-up and provides a number of boot mode options, including Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, Safe Mode with Command Prompt and Last Known Good Configuration.

Internationalisation


One of the other problems that has plagued NT in previous releases is the lack of internationalisation out of the box, making it difficult for multi-national companies to deploy effectively across the organisation. New internationalisation and multi-language support in Windows 2000, however, allows use of multiple languages, fonts and spell checkers in a single document.

To those of us who do not use such features and never stray from our ‘UK English’ settings, this is a trivial matter. However, the apparent triviality of the subject belies the amount of development effort that has gone into it. At last year’s reviewer’s workshop in Seattle, it was interesting to see how a bunch of cynical UK hacks were won over by one of the development team responsible for this part of the OS. A truly animated individual spoke at length about what was involved in supporting multiple languages and their associated character sets. He told us about the difficulties of examining the semantic structure of a sentence before creating the final graphical output to the screen. And he told us about the trials and tribulations of supporting languages which are written from right to left on the screen.

However, all that is needed under Windows 2000 to write in both English and Arabic is to install the appropriate language setting via the Regional Option applet in the Control Panel, add it as an Input Locale in the same place – this would usually be done at install time. This provides a language indicator on the taskbar, and clicking on this is all that is required of the end user in order to switch between languages and character sets. As you can see from the screen shot, it is quite possible to start writing in one language and quickly switch to another at the click of a mouse – here we switched between English and Arabic within the Windows Notepad application. Future versions of Office will also support this feature, along with the ability to grammar and spell check an entire document containing several language and character sets.

Windows 2000 should be the easiest Windows yet to install and deploy in large-scale networks, and the internationalisation features make it particularly attractive in global organisations.

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