Way back in the computer Pleistocene era (that is, about ten years ago), PCs were unimpressive creatures, to be sure. Their capacity was limited, their processing was slow, and their interface was all text. Nevertheless, they were great at tasks that were difficult, time-consuming, and boring for humans. In most businesses, PCs rapidly took over the data manipulation, calculation, and word-processing chores that people hated doing. And the more the PC could do, the more was demanded of it. Hardware and software both had to improve rapidly to meet that demand.
In those early and dark ages, the PC's basic operating system was some version of DOS (Disk Operating System). Like all other operating systems, DOS is software that acts as an internal traffic cop—allotting memory, disk space, and central processing unit (CPU) time to applications, networking software, or peripheral (add-on) equipment. The operating system also keeps track of your files and does all the other behind-the-scenes chores necessary to keep a complicated piece of machinery running.
DOS had weaknesses, including a very limited memory space and a remarkable single-mindedness: Only one small application could run at a time. An early attempt to make the PC friendlier was Microsoft Windows. The less said about the early versions, the better, but Microsoft stuck with it. Windows 3.1 actually worked—most of the time—though at heart, it was still just a dressed-up version of DOS. Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me were additional steps toward transcending DOS restrictions.
Right about the time of Windows 3.1, Microsoft embarked on a parallel path to develop an operating system suitable for the more demanding corporate environment: Windows NT. The first version of NT (version 3.1) was also pretty feeble. Few businesses adopted Windows NT until version 3.5, and Windows NT 4 was the first version to be adopted in large numbers for corporate networks.
Microsoft's operating-system efforts have proceeded along two parallel tracks, because each Windows series is built on a different base of computer code. The tracks can work together and communicate with each other, but their basic kernels are not the same.
Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me). Microsoft's goal in developing what it now considers its "consumer" versions of Windows was to make them as compatible (with games, add-ons, and older programs) as possible. When that design goal interferes with security and stability, compatibility wins. Thousands upon thousands of different programs run on these operating systems.
Windows NT 3.01, Windows NT 3.5 and 3.51, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000. What Microsoft now describes as its "business" Windows versions are designed for maximum stability and security. When those design goals conflict with compatibility, stability and security win. For example, every version of Windows NT worked with fewer applications than the Windows 95 family. (Fortunately, compatibility is less of an issue in Windows 2000.)
In short, Windows 2000 server is the successor to Windows NT 4 server, and Windows 2000 Professional is the successor to Windows NT 4 Workstation.
Windows 2000 comes in four versions, three of which are designed for use on network servers (central computers that provide services for the ordinary PCs—the workstations—in the company). These more expensive Windows 2000 editions (called Windows 2000 Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server) look almost exactly like Windows 2000 Professional. In fact, you might not even be able to tell the difference when running your favorite programs. However, the Windows 2000 server editions include a large collection of networking features that generally require a professional network administrator to understand, install, set up, and maintain.
The fourth version, Windows 2000 Professional, is the subject of this book. Windows 2000 Pro's primary role is to operate a workstation on a network—preferably a network served by computers running Windows 2000 Server. Windows 2000 Pro, in other words, is the software that drives the PCs on most employees' desks.
Windows 2000 Professional also works very well on workstations in a peer-to-peer workgroup (a less complex network that you can set up yourself, without buying a server computer; see Chapter 15). Some people, welcoming its stability, even use Windows 2000 Pro on standalone (non-networked) computers at home or in a business, although the heavy-duty security features of Windows 2000 Pro aren't usually necessary in a home setting.