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All about Microsoft Windows NT

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Windows NT is one of the most popular network operating systems in the world. Originally derived from a product called LAN Manager,Windows NT has become the platform of choice for businesses in every sector and of every size. The NT stands for new technology, although in the latest release, the NT has been replaced by some, er, newer technology and has been renamed Windows 2000, keeping it in line with Microsoft's habit of naming its products after the year in which they are released. There are distinct differences between Windows NT and Windows 2000, but they are also closely related. Anyone considering pursuing a career in networking in the near future would do well to learn both operating systems because more and more companies are likely to replace their Windows NT systems with Windows 2000. Much of the information in this section applies to both products, so they will be referred to as Windows NT/2000.

Each release of Windows NT comes in different versions, designed for different purposes. For Windows NT 4, there is a Workstation product designed for use by individuals on a PC workstation, and a Server product designed for use as a centralized file/application/print server. For Windows 2000, the Workstation product is now called Professional, and there are three variations of the Server product, namely Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server, which are designed to be used in different environments.

Why Use Windows NT?

One of the main reasons Windows NT has been so widely adopted is its capability to perform many functions very well. The basic product, which is very affordable by software standards, comes with most of the tools that a modern organization needs to operate. Although the functionality of these tools may not be as complete as other commercially available products, many companies simply stick with them rather than spend money on other products.

Common Interface

The user interface (sometimes referred to as the "front end") for both Windows NT and Windows 2000 are very similar to other Microsoft operating systems, such as Windows 95,98, and Millennium Edition, which many people are already using on their home computers. This commonality has a number of benefits. First, it means that the interface, and subsequently the administration of Windows NT/ 2000 systems, is relatively straightforward. Second, it means that any applications that are designed to run on the server look the same, which in turn make them easier to learn.

Business Features

Although the visual presentation of Windows NT/2000 is similar to that of other Microsoft operating systems, that is where the similarity ends.The Windows NT/ 2000 products are designed for use primarily in a business environment and must accommodate different needs than the operating systems used on home comput-ers.These extra business features include a much greater degree of security, better support for applications, and an increased level of reliability. Windows NT/2000 also supports systems that require a significant amount of processing power and those that require huge amounts of RAM.

Ease of Administration

One of the reasons that Windows NT has proved so popular with companies of all sizes is the ease with which it can be administered. Not only are the administration tools easy to find and use, but also those with litde or no knowledge of the utility can often rely on a comprehensive help system or in many cases a wizard, which takes them through basic tasks, such as creating a new user, group, or printer. Another factor is that Windows NT/2000 are designed to be run "out of the box" with little or no alterations to the default configuration. That is not to say that it cannot be tuned, because it most surely can be. Many companies, in particular small businesses, like the idea of having an easy to install, easy to administer, good-at-pretty-much-everything operating system.

Third-Party Product Support

The list of products that are written to run on a Windows NT system is practically endless. Products include accounting, personnel, databases, graphics, booking systems, network management, inventory, Internet Web servers, and so on. Many companies, not using Windows NT/2000 originally, have now found themselves using one or more of these servers, so that they can use an application or system that was written to run on a Windows NT/2000 system.

The Differences between Windows NT and Windows 2000

The biggest difference between Windows 2000 and its predecessor is the way in which they deal with information about objects (users, groups, etc.) on the network. Windows NT operated on what is known as a domain model, where users and computers were grouped into logical units called domains. These domains had one or more Windows NT servers, which acted as central repositories for information on users and groups within the domain. Within each domain, one Windows NT server was nominated as the "master or primary."To reduce the load on this server, increase performance, and provide a degree of fault tolerance, other servers could be nominated as "backups" to the master and receive a copy of all the user and group information that the master held. This domain model system was well understood and widely implemented. Even so, some people criticized the domain model for its lack of scalability, in other words, for its inability to handle very large numbers of user accounts in a practical and easily administrable manner.

The new version of Windows NT, Windows 2000, still has the capability to operate using this domain model, but also comes with a new method of management called Active Directory. In an Active Directory environment, the database does not have a master and backups. All servers participating in the directory can hold information on objects on the system. In addition, these objects can be divided into separate units, allowing them to be managed and administered on a local basis. This function is in direct contrast to the Windows NT 4 model, where all objects were held in a single area. Not only does Active Directory provide the capability to compartmentalize areas of the network, it also has the capability to relate to other areas of the network and create an object called a tree. Multiple trees can then be grouped to form a forest. This extra level of organization effectively addresses any potential issues that Windows NT 4 had in regard to scalability, and makes Windows 2000 a truly scalable network operating system.

As time goes on, you are likely to see more and more implementations of Windows 2000. The proliferation of Windows NT 4 in the market means that anyone entering the Windows networking sector, or indeed any area of networking, should try to obtain at least some knowledge of the Windows NT 4 product.
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