Putting on the Breaks

Earlierthis year, I wrote that everyone would quickly migrate to Windows 2000 becauseit’s much more stable than earlier versions of NT and Windows. I was wrong, andI’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out why. A few weeks ago I got myanswer.

Based on myrecommendation, a customer bought four Dell Optiplex PCs loaded with Windows2000 Professional. We could have ordered Windows 98 or Windows ME, but Iinsisted on Windows 2000.

Thiscustomer is typical of many small organizations trying to stay alive andminimize expenses. They have a small LAN with a NetWare 4.11 server and roughly20 desktops and laptops. Many of the applications are a few years old.

The majorapplication at this site is still DOS based, built from a 10-year-old versionof a compiler called Microsoft BASIC Professional. The vendor is working on amodern, Windows-based version, and we expect it to be ready in early 2001. Theyalso run a homemade payroll system built on an old version of Foxpro, vintage1993 or so. Other applications include Procomm Plus, PCAnywhere, several otherold DOS programs, and AOL for e-mail.

Windows2000 broke just about every piece of software at this site. First, neitherWindows NT Workstation nor Windows 2000 support the NetWare Capture command toredirect printing to a network printer. Microsoft’s knowledge base says the NetUse commands replace everything that NetWare Capture does, and so support forCapture is unnecessary. This is a big problem because the major DOS applicationat this site evidently uses an old NetWare API to do Captures under programcontrol. Since the program does this itself, Net Use doesn’t do us any good. SoWindows 2000 broke network printing from a key application at this site. Woops!

The problemis further complicated because the vendor can’t easily compile the DOS codeunder any new operating system because Microsoft no longer supports the BASIC Professionalcompiler. This means getting source code changes from the vendor for this oldsoftware is very difficult.

PCAnywhereis downright scary. Symantec’s knowledge base says only the very latest versionof PCAnywhere works with Windows 2000, and then only with the latest updatesfrom Symantec’s Web site. As of early October, PCAnywhere was not yet supportedwith Windows 2000 Service Pack 1. More ominous, Symantec says if the systemgoes down after installing PCAnywhere and before installing Symantec’s latestpatches from its Web site, the system will not restart. This means somebody whounwittingly installs the wrong version of PCAnywhere on a Windows 2000 systemcould render that system permanently useless.

ProcommPlus also gave me problems when Windows 2000 informed me that this applicationisn’t supported and won’t work. I did some more Web research and found that theonly supported version of Procomm Plus is the absolute most recent version. Sothe customer shelled out some more money and bought the new version.

AOL 5.0also broke. AOL says they have two versions of version 5.0. One works withWindows 2000, the other doesn’t.

The old DOSapplications behave strangely. When I launch them and they go into full-screenmode, the DOS environment fills the screen but the actual display scrunches upinto the top half of the screen. We can work around it in some cases bylaunching the program in a window and then pressing ALT+ENTER to change intofull screen mode. No amount of playing with fonts or screen layouts seems tooffer a cure.

The oldFoxpro payroll system doesn’t even launch under Windows 2000. To fix it willrequire major source code restructuring and the newest version of VisualFoxpro.

TheMicrosoft Netware Client performs abysmally at this site. Access to the NetWareserver is much slower under Windows 2000 than Windows 95/98.

One nightdriving home, it finally sunk in. Windows 2000 breaks all kinds of legacyapplications and behaves poorly in a NetWare environment. That’s why it hasn’tsold big until recently.

Of courseI’m mad at Microsoft and the PC application vendors who sell this junk, but I’meven madder at myself. I should have inventoried all the applications at thissite, should have forced the customer into some structured upgrade steps, andshould have researched each of the applications before buying the PCs. Instead,we made the decision one day to buy the PCs, and we took the plunge on thespot. I know better than that!

By now, Ihave workarounds for just about everything except the printing issues, andthese will hopefully resolve themselves when the new software ships. I’m alsoeagerly looking forward to Microsoft’s promised DLL hell fix that will finallyallow new operating system versions to support old application versions. PerhapsMicrosoft could include this in a Windows 2000 Service Pack instead of waitingfor the next major Windows release. --GregScott, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), is chief technology officerof Infrasupport Etc. Inc. (Eagan, Minn.). Contact him at gregscott@infrasupportetc.com.

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