April 15, 2005

My Workstation OS: Windows 2000 Professional

Author: Brian Bruns

Windows 2000 Professional, while not considered a home user operating system, fits my bill for an OS that is stable and has a good combination of performance and compatibility with previous Windows versions.

Why Windows 2000, when XP, built on the 2000 code base, is out and has more features? Because those nifty whiz-bang glittery features aren't worth the performance drag and instability they tend to cause.

I use Windows 2000 Professional on an Intel Celeron 766 retrofitted laptop-converted-to-desktop with 192MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. It is perky and responsive, and more then capable of playing games like Diablo 2 or Command & Conquer Red Alert 2.

The primary problem with 2000 is that a lot of vendors skipped it when it comes to driver support. Luckily, 2000 will happily run many XP drivers with no ill effects. Upgrade to DirectX 9.0c, add the latest video display and sound card drivers, and you are set.

Software

I use a combination of software, both commercial and open source/free. AbiWord is my primary word processor, and I use Excel for my spreadsheets. For Web browsing, K-Meleon is my browser of choice; it's based on Gecko 1.7.x and is small and fast with no unnecessary fluff. Outlook Express 6 with OE-Quotefix handles my email. For chatting I use the excellent open source Miranda instant messaging client and my own ircII EPIC4 for Windows.

Add Linux to Windows 2000 with XLiveCD

If you need to use both Windows and Linux together, mounting XLiveCD on a Windows 2000 PC works well.

My full-time job is as a climate researcher, calculating data on Unix-like workstations. I'm also a volunteer producer of NTDTV, a non-profit Chinese medium. For the latter I need to use commercial software from Adobe and Macromedia, among others. These packages rarely have non-Windows version, and I need good performance for Chinese characters and fonts, so I have to work in Windows.

In my experience, Windows 2000 is the best operating system for processing multimedia tasks on PCs. Of course I could use Windows 2000 with X Window software installed for my scientific research, and many of my colleagues do just that. But I love to use Linux emotionally because it's open and free. The concept of open source fits well with us scientists, who are willing to share things and thoughts with others. Besides, while connecting to Unix-like workstations with remote login, the interface of the Linux console is more convenient for me personally. Commands are the same on my local and remote machines, and it's easier to exchange files between workstations via SFTP or FTP protocol. I don't need to open too many windows; just a KDE Konsole window can take care of everything.

When using Windows 2000, I cannot type Linux commands on my workstation with only simple X Window software installed. Fortunately, I found Cygwin
and its related package XLiveCD, a CD based on Cygwin. XLiveCD collects many useful Linux tools, and you don't need to install it; you can copy its ISO image onto your hard drive and mount it as a virtual CD-ROM with Daemon Tools. This approach makes it run faster than a CD-based application. Once you install XLiveCD, you can run shell scripts with Bash, and do simple statistical analysis via awk, sed, and wc commands. XLiveCD makes moving routine tasks from Linux to Windows possible, without re-writing any programs or scripts.

XLiveCD is configured to allow by default forwarding of graphics from X11 applications. Users run the SSH client to connect to the remote machine, and X11 graphics are forwarded automatically
from the remote machine's X applications. That means that I can use X Window applications on my Windows workstation easily while connected via SSH to any Unix-like machines: no need to set DISPLAY every time, and no extra configuration needed for PCs behind routers.

-- Cheng-Han Wu

For development purposes I use a combination of Cygwin, Delphi 6 Personal Edition, and Rapid-Q. Other stuff I use that makes my desktop tolerable and fun: 7-Zip, TightVNC, WASTE, XNews, PingPlotter, PuTTY, WinSCP, TrueCrypt, GnuDIP GUI Client (for dynamic DNS), the various Command & Conquer games, Diablo 2, Winamp, and iTunes.

Being able to install programs easily is a plus for Windows, although I prefer RPM package management due to its ability to completely remove packages without leaving crud behind. With Windows, unfortunately, you have to dig and rip apart the registry at times to remove a stubborn program.

Security isn't as good on Windows as some other operating systems, but at least with Service Pack 4 and all the patches, you have a better chance of surviving the Internet than an XP machine at times.

Wrap-up

I recommend people use the operating system that best fits their needs and resources. I personally believe that Linux is not ready for the desktop; its major strong point is as a server, and that is where I use it the most. Windows 2000 Pro, with its good compatibility with most hardware, USB support, and lightweight GUI (when compared to XP), makes for a desktop system that supports the most functionality that I need. When the need arises for Unix or Linux support, I either run the apps under Cygwin with X, or SSH into one of my servers and run them from there.

Some people say I am biased in supporting Windows (I was an NT admin and end user support tech for awhile), but I've been a Mac user and Linux user longer than a Windows user. Everyone should use what he feels most comfortable with, regardless of politics.

Brian Bruns is a network and sysadmin for the SOSDG and a computer security consultant.

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