Become Popular with Laptop Users

There’s nothing wrong with improving your popularity, right? Here’s a quick bit of interoffice political advice: Upgrade your key laptop users to Windows 2000 Professional. Especially the ones who sign off on your raise.

Let’s be honest, reasons to go to Windows 2000 Professional for regular desktop users in advance of Windows 2000 Server implementation aren’t that compelling. The new CD player is nice, and the fade away menu bars are cute, but neither makes your jaw drop. Microsoft touts the improved reliability and the reduced requirement for reboots in Windows 2000 as a reason to upgrade from Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. In a perfect world, users would get excited about improved reliability alone. The reality is you have to pull users in with flashy features and hope they notice the reliability improvements.

While the desktop features of Windows 2000 are fairly boring to end users, but for laptops it's another story. Compared with Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional has some features that laptop users can’t help but appreciate. I upgraded recently, and have been blown away. As a laptop operating system, Windows 2000 is the best I’ve seen from Microsoft.

First, there’s the hibernate function. This is the power management feature that allows a user to swap everything in memory onto the hard drive and power off the computer, even yank the battery. Less than a minute after powering back on, the user is in the middle of whatever programs were open when hibernation was initiated.

Another showstopper is the unplug/eject icon on the Taskbar. Clicking this icon -- a drawing of a PCMCIA card and a green arrow -- allows a user to stop the modem, the NIC, or the disk drive, pop it out and swap in another PCMCIA card or drive. The operating system recognizes the new drive without rebooting. Anyone who has had to reboot to insert a CD drive and read a CD will appreciate this feature.

The offline folders, network connect/disconnect, and synchronization functions are all remarkably easy to use. The Encrypting File System also is an attractive feature for upper management types, especially after you explain to them how it can lock you -- the administrator -- out of sensitive files.

Then there’s the reliability. I’m running a pretty minimal configuration for Windows 2000 -- a 233-MHz Pentium III, with a 3 GB hard drive and 64 MB of memory. Sometimes things take a little time to come up or the mouse pointer will freeze for a few seconds, but I have yet to crash. Six days without a crash on Windows 98 would have been reason to uncork a bottle of champagne.

There are caveats, from an administrative point of view. Windows 2000 Professional requires a computer account to log into a domain. For many Windows NT domain administrators this will be an unexpected hassle to set up.

Of course, don’t be an idiot about upgrading. Pilot the operating system on your own laptop first and then find yourself another willing guinea pig before you surprise the CEO with an upgrade. Test out all your network settings. My patient and cooperative network administrator spent about three hours with me the Monday after my upgrade figuring out how to get me logged on to the network. The last thing you want to do is upgrade the boss and lock him out of his e-mail for three days while you figure out where Microsoft hid the networking functions.

You’ll also want to sell the thing. Spend some time demonstrating the benefits. Do the, "You’re on the plane and the pilot tells you to turn off your electronic devices," demonstration of the hibernation function. Show off the unplug/eject hardware popup window from the Taskbar and hot swap the drives, and take the time to demonstrate the offline folders functionality. Then budget some time to educate users again as they try to actually use those functions.

Eventually, your laptop users may actually thank you once they realize they’re not rebooting every other day like they (read I, Scott Bekker) did under Windows 98.They’ll thank you when the operating system doesn’t hang on every other shutdown like Windows 98 did.

One last word about the advantages and disadvantages of this approach. You’ll get experience with the new operating system and possibly curry favor with your boss. The main pitfall: All your other laptop users will be clamoring for upgrades, too.