Windows 2000 Recovery Features

The current rumored release date for Windows 2000 is October 1999. With that in mind,it may be useful to take a look at Win 2000 and discuss some of its newer features.  Microsoft released the Beta 3 version, its first release candidate, which includes somebrand new features. We've looked at the most vaunted feature of Win 2000, ActiveDirectory, last year (October 1998). In this column we'll take a look at some of the newsystem recovery features.

Starting in Win 2000, we'll be able to boot into Safe Mode. Safe Mode is a greatfeature that Microsoft first implemented in Windows 95. It allows the operating system tobe started with minimum software drivers and programs.

This allows you to get into features such as the Control Panel or the Registry Editorand fix whatever configuration problem is preventing your

system from booting. In past versions of NT (and still available in Win 2000), therewas the option to boot using the "Last Known Good Config-uration".

This method had some shortcomings. Because the "good configuration" came fromregistry saved during the last shutdown, it was quite possible that the supposedly goodconfiguration was really the cause of the problem. With Safe Mode, the non-essential partsof the registry are ignored and problems can be bypassed.

There are several versions of Safe Mode. The most basic loads minimum video, mouse,keyboard and disk system drivers. Also available is Safe Mode with Networking which addsnetwork interface drivers and network protocols. A final version is Safe Mode with CommandPrompt that merely displays a command line interface. This is useful for dealing with GUIproblems associated with mouse or video drivers, but will force many system administratorsto familiarize themselves with typing all over again. The Safe Mode options can be used bysimply hitting the F8 key when presented with operating system selection menu at boottime.

Two other new boot modes allow for greater flexibility in dealing with startup andconfiguration problems. The Enable Boot Logging option creates a log of devices andservices as they are loaded. The log is saved to the system root directory in a filecalled ntblog.txt. This is useful for discovering exactly what software is interruptingyour boot process.

In a similar vein, Debugging Mode allows debugging information to be sent to anothermachine via serial cable during startup. This is helpful if your machine is locking upduring the boot process and you can't even get to a boot log.

A new, and very useful feature in Beta 3 is the Repair Command Console. This utilityallows a machine to be booted using floppy disks, and still grant read and write access toNTFS volumes. The Console allows for formatting of drives, repairs of Master Boot Recordsand boot sectors and copying of files. Many simple problems can be fixed using theConsole.

Currently many people format their system partitions using FAT rather than NTFS (apractice I abhor) merely to allow them to boot with DOS or Windows 9x disks and performthese basic repair functions. While this works, it obviously leaves critical system fileswithout the security and protection afforded by NTFS. Two other time honored NT repairprocedures, installing a second separate NT version on the system or performing the verylengthy setup recovery procedure, are now no longer necessary.

WINDOWS 2000: THE BIG STORY

Windows 2000 is big. The server version took nearly an hour to install on a 266MHz Pentium II with 64MB of RAM and an IDE hard drive. In the past, Microsoft had said that NT 5 (as it was previously known) would have between 25 and 30 million lines of code. These numbers were apparently meant to impress everyone about the value of the product. However, recent press releases and other material never mention the size after the public began discussing the potential number of bugs in 30 million lines of code.

Installing a default set of features required 718MB on a new partition. Microsoft's minimum requirements for Beta 3 are 166MHz Pentium CPU, 2GB drive with 850MB free, 64MB RAM although 128MB are recommended.

Active Directory (AD) will be a fundamental shift in system administration for most companies. Plan to spend a lot of time learning about AD. Think about your current domain scheme and how AD can best be implemented. Windows 2000 is different than NT. Aside from the fact that it adds a lot of features and changes one of the most fundamental NT paradigms, the domain, the interface is different. Just getting to the familiar Services icon in the Control Panel is frustrating since it's moved. It's now under Programs, Administrative Tools, Computer Management. There are lots of little things like this. While the structure of the menus and programs is a bit more logical, it's different. It will take a while to break the old habits and get up to speed on Win 2000.

Don't Plan A Quick Rollout

Spend some time getting to know Win 2000 and really thinking about the rollout. Aside from the above mentioned issues about the interface and AD, you'll have to insure your servers can handle the strain of the new requirements. Don't forget the Year 2000. While Win 2000 is compliant, your other systems may cause you headaches at the turn of the decade. Don't try to deal with a major Windows upgrade if you think you may be dealing with other major problems.

It seems to be a truism that Microsoft new releases cause everyone to jump. Unlike the world of UNIX and legacy systems, where operating systems upgrades are often several versions behind the current release, lots of people tend to upgrade their Windows relatively quickly. While I don't recommend that you necessarily wait for the first Service Pack as many analysts and pundits do, I do recommend that you carefully consider the actions that you take with your production machines.

If you want to try your hand at Win 2000 now, you can get the Beta 3 version for a small charge at http://www.microsoft.com/ windows/preview/order.asp.

The Repair Command Console can be run from either the Win 2000 boot floppies or it canbe installed on the system. If installed on the system, the Repair Command Console appearsas a separate option on the operating system selection menu at boot time. Access to theConsole is restricted using Win 2000 security and only local administrators can access theconsole.

The command prompt is no frills. Just the commands necessary to (hopefully) get yoursystem started are available. Commands enable and disable are provided to start and stopservices. An extract command is provided to get missing software from installation CABfiles. Format and diskpart allow you to perform basic disk management functions.

To someone who is very concerned about the ability to recover systems quickly, thesefeatures hold a great deal of appeal. These along with the many other seemingly small butvery important features like eliminating reboots after many system management operations;eliminating the need to reinstall Service Packs after installing new components and diskquotas (finally!) will be welcome additions and should make many system administratorsjobs easier.