Apr 17, 2022
Microsoft Windows 2000 was the successor to Windows NT 4.0, which had been released in 1997. Windows 2000 didn’t have a code name (supposedly because Jim Allchin didn’t like codenames), although its service packs did; Service Pack 1 and Windows 2000 64-bit were codenamed "Asteroid" and "Janus," respectively. 2000 began as NT 5.0 but Microsoft announced the name change in 1998, in a signal with when customer might expect the OS.
Some of the enhancements were just to match the look and feel of the consumer Windows 98 counterpart. For example, the logo in the boot screens was cleaned up and they added new icons. Some found Windows 2000 to be more reliable, others claimed it didn’t have enough new features. But what it might have lacked in features from a cursory glance, Windows 2000 made up for in stability, scalability, and reliability.
This time around, Microsoft had input from some of their larger partners. They released the operating system to partners in 1999, after releasing three release candidates or developer previews earlier that year. They needed to, if only so third parties could understand what items needed to be sold to customers. There were enough editions now, that it wasn’t uncommon for resellers to have to call the licensing desk at a distributor (similar to a wholesaler for packaged goods) in order to figure out what line items the reseller needed to put on a bid, or estimate.
Reporters hailed it as the most stable product ever produced by Microsoft. It was also the most secure version. 2000 brought Group Policies forward from NT and enhanced what could be controlled from a central system. The old single line domain concept for managing domains was enhanced to become what Microsoft called Active Directory, a modern directory service that located resources in a database and allowed for finely grained controls of those resources. Windows 2000 also introduced NTFS 3, an Encrypted File System that was built on top of layers of APIs, each with their own controls.
Still, Windows 98 was the most popular operating system in the world by then and it was harder to move people to it than initially expected. Microsoft released Windows 98 Second Edition in 1999 and then Windows Millennium Edition, or Me, in 2000. Millennium was a flop and helped move more people into 2000, even though 2000 was marketed as a business or enterprise operating system.
Windows 2000 Professional was the workstation workhorse. Active Directory and other server services ran on Windows 2000 Server Edition. They also released Advanced Server and Datacenter Server for even more advanced environments, with Datacenter able to support up to 32 CPUs. Professional borrowed many features from both NT and 98 Second Edition, including the Outlook Express email client, expanded file system support, WebDAV support, Windows Media Player, WDM (Windows Driver Model), the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) for making it easier to manage those GPOs, support for new mass storage devices like Firewire, hibernation and passwords to wake up from hibernation, the System File Checker, new debugging options, better event logs, Windows Desktop Update (which gave us “Patch Tuesday”), a new Windows Installer, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Plug and Play hardware (installing new hardware in Windows NT was a bit more like doing so in Unix than Windows 95), and all the transitions and animations of the Windows shell like an Explorer integrated with Internet Explorer.
Some of these features were abused. We got Code Red, Nimbda, and other malware that became high profile attacks against vulnerable binaries. These were unprecedented in terms of how quickly a flaw in the code could get abused en masse. Hundreds of thousands of computers could be infected in a matter of days with a well crafted exploit. Even some of the server services were exploited such as the IIS, or Internet Information Services server. Microsoft responded with security bulletins but buffer overflows and other vulnerabilities allows mass infections. So much so that the US and other governments got involved. This wasn’t made any easier by the fact that the source code for parts of 2000 was leaked on the Internet and had been used to help find new exploits.
Yet Windows 2000 was still the most secure operating system Microsoft had put out. Imagine how many viruses and exploits would have appeared on all those computers if it hadn’t of been. And within Microsoft, Windows 2000 was a critical step toward mass adoption of the far more stable, technically sophisticated Windows NT platform. It demonstrated that a technologically powerful Windows operating system could also have a user-friendly interface and multimedia capabilities.