W2K Week: Switch, Stay or Pause: Windows 2000 and Your PC

Our columnist sets you on the path of deciding whether this upgrade is right for your needs now.
Author:
Publish date:

OK, you've heard the hype, You've read our coverage of

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

Windows 2000

here on

TheStreet.com

-- and, no doubt, read and heard a few zillion words elsewhere. You use a Windows PC. (Mac-, Unix-, and Linux-using

TSC

subscribers, my apologies; go get a cup of coffee.) You want to know:

What should I do about this? Upgrade? Stay where I am (presumably, running Windows 95 or Windows 98)? Think about this for a while longer?

We've got answers. Not absolute answers, not clear and universal answers -- we know you want certainty, but this is an ambiguous world. But answers that will at least start you down the path toward a "W2K: Yea or Nay?" answer for your own PC. (Consider this a rare exception to my usual "no computer-geek talk on

TSC

" rule.

TSC

is about helping you make money, not playing computer. But to judge from your emails on the Windows 2000 dilemma, this is an important and, for many of our readers, confusing moment. Thus the exception.)

(If you want to hear what

Bill Gates

has to say on this -- can we reasonably assume we

know

what he's going to say? -- you might want to watch the

Webcast of his speech at today's big Windows 2000 rollout in San Francisco, beginning at 12:30 p.m. EST.)

Before we start considering the merits of a changeover to W2K, some uber-warnings:

  • No one has to change to Windows 2000. Present Windows versions will continue to run just fine, and will continue to be a better choice than W2K for many PC users. That will change with time, but frankly, a jump to W2K right away doesn't make sense for most individual PC users -- especially if you're your own tech support department.
  • If you have a choice, don't install Windows 2000 over an existing installation of Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT 4.0 (or earlier) on your PC. Windows 2000 uses drivers incompatible with those employed by those operating systems, and though Microsoft says you can do a "write-over" install of W2K, nearly everyone who has, like me, worked with W2K over the past several months agrees that it's a mistake ... and can lead to real trouble. Instead, swallow hard and buy a new PC with W2K preinstalled by the computer maker.
  • If you want to move to Windows 2000 and can't get a new PC, at least wipe your hard disk clean by reformatting, then install Windows 2000 on this "clean machine." But consider first: You'll want to run a complete backup (maybe two, if you're the belt-and-suspenders type) of everything on that disk. And you'll want to make separate backups on floppies of all the drivers used on it, for everything from your video card to your CD-drive, CD-R/RW drive, tape backup drive, sound card and more. Make sure you also have all the floppies and CDs for all your applications, too -- even the old, hard-to-find ones. And don't forget installation disks for your cable modem, DSL modem, etc. But wait! There's more! (The offer for Ginsu Knives comes in a minute.) Many of those drivers won't work with Windows 2000. So before doing anything else, you need to visit the Web sites of the makers of all those products, to see if they have new, updated/upgraded drivers for your devices, ones that are either Microsoft-certified to run with Windows 2000 (rare), or at least promised by their vendors (sure...) to work with Windows 2000. (You can also get some very new drivers that were not included on the Windows 2000 distribution CDs by going to Microsoft's W2K Drivers Web page. Only when you have all this together do you want to reformat (i.e., erase) everything on that hard disk and start installing W2K. (Are you beginning to see why I recommended getting a new PC?)
  • If you do want to upgrade your existing computer, make very sure you have the firepower. Windows 2000 needs -- according to Microsoft -- at least a 133 megahertz (MHz) Pentium CPU, at least a 2 gigabyte (GB) hard disk with at least 650 megabytes (MB) of disk space for the operating system alone and 64 MB of RAM memory. Now let me restate that based on experience in the real world: Jim says you want at least a 300 MHz Pentium PC, with at least 128 MB of memory and the biggest hard disk you can find. (If 650 MB of the disk is going to be taken up by the OS, you still need lots of space for your applications and your own data files.)
  • If your PC is more than 6 months old, contact its maker to see if you need a BIOS upgrade to run Windows 2000 effectively. You probably will. The good news: Today, BIOS upgrades are usually simple downloads that you click on and run, with the machine handling the messy parts. The bad news: You may have a PC whose BIOS chip needs to be physically pulled and replaced -- assuming it's not soldered into the computer's motherboard, which makes this hopeless -- which is messy, indeed.
  • If your PC is more than 2 years old, forget it. You're asking for trouble, and will get zip, zero, nada return for the cost and pain of the upgrade.
  • If your PC is connected to a network, do not install Windows 2000 unless you first discuss the change with your network administrator, and he or she approves.
  • If your PC is connected to a network, and you're your own network administrator, don't change to Windows 2000 unless and until you've also upgraded the network's server or servers to Windows 2000 Server Edition or Windows 2000 Advanced Server Edition. Actually, the regular, less-expensive Windows 2000 Server Edition is probably just fine for you; you don't need the mega-net features of the Advanced Edition.

OK, with all

that

out of the way, what are the specific advantages and disadvantages of Windows 2000? Which Windows operating system is right for you?

Come back later today for the second half of Jim's tips for those considering upgrading to Windows 2000.

Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, neither Seymour nor Seymour Group held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are current or recent consulting clients of Seymour Group. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at

jseymour@thestreet.com.