Peek Under the Windows 2000 Hood

Test driving <i>Inside Microsoft Windows 2000</i>, a DVD training pack from David Solomon Seminars.


Have you ever been broken down on the side of the road, smoke billowing from the engine, but the extent of your automotive knowledge was changing a tire? I have, and the sheer frustration of feeling helpless and not knowing what to do can be overwhelming. The same can be said of Windows 2000 troubleshooting. Maybe you're a competent network admin who trembles at the sight of a blue screen of death, or you feel a chill go down your spine when Dr. Watson pops up with a foreboding message of catastrophic data corruption. You may simply relegate yourself to re-imaging the computer when confronted with these unknowns, but wouldn't it be great if you could troubleshoot these problems where they occur: down at the operating system level? Yes, you too can be a Win2K mechanic. Where do you start? With Win2K Internals 101, of course. This month I take a look at a new self-paced DVD training tutorial featuring renowned Win2K experts David Solomon and Mark Russinovich.

Product Information
Inside Microsoft Windows 2000, $1,295
David Solomon Expert Seminars, Inc.
(860) 355-9029
http://www.solsem.com/

On the Inside
The DVDs come in an unassuming thin blue binder accompanied by a CD-ROM and short 35-page workbook. On the CD-ROM is an e-book version of Inside Windows 2000, 3rd edition (Microsoft Press) coauthored by (surprise!) David Solomon and Mark Russinovich (the original Inside Windows NT version of the book was authored by Helen Custer). When writing the book, both David and Mark had inside access to not only the Windows NT/Win2K source code but also to the Windows 2000 project development team, as the book was commissioned by Microsoft itself. The Inside Win2K DVD tutorial is billed as a companion to the book, although I didn't find it necessary to read the book to get the full range of information available. Much the same material is available from the DVDs.

I played the DVD tutorials on my HP Notebook using WINDVD, though any computer DVD decoder should suffice. If your computer doesn't have a DVD player, but you do have a player for your home entertainment system, you can watch the DVDs on your TV and follow along with the lab exercises on your laptop or desktop computer. To get the most from this self-paced training, you should also have already installed a copy of the Windows 2000 Resource Kit (Pro or Server, sold separately), the Windows 2000 Support tools (freely distributed on the Win2K installation CD), and various freeware tools from the Sysinternals web site (www.sysinternals.com).

DVD Tutorials
The five-DVD set is comprised of 36 modules, half of which are presented by David Solomon and the other half by Mark Russinovich. The tutorials are basically narrated discussions of various topics related to the detailed core functions of the Win2K operating system. Interjected throughout are PowerPoint slides and hands-on demonstrations that help to clarify and illustrate the topics being discussed. Both presenters have a very relaxed presentation style and although the language is highly technical, the average MCP who has worked long enough with Microsoft products should be familiar with most of the terms being thrown around like processes, threads, virtual memory, DLLs, etc.

Get ready to spend some time with this product, as there are over eleven hours of DVD playtime. The topics are well organized so you can pick and choose what interests you. The logical organization and flow of topics allows you to tackle these concepts piecemeal so you can work through a few modules and resume training at a later time.

The first tutorial starts out where you would expect: an overview of the Win2K operating system history and architecture. One module explains some of the differences between Win2K and Windows XP. From there you are given an overview of the Win2K architecture. Each subsequent module explains in ever increasing detail the inner-workings of a component of this architecture, including the Win2K environment subsystems, the kernel, system processes, etc. You will learn such diverse concepts as troubleshooting kernel mode crashes, process debugging, advanced performance monitoring, and more. There is a tremendous amount of detail presented on the innards of the Win2K Registry, Memory Management, Security, Storage, and Networking.

Although I had picked up a lot of tidbits on the inner workings of these components throughout my years as a network admin, I was amazed at how much I did not know. The tutorial helped to coalesce and organize all those concepts into a 30,000-foot level framework that finally made sense. It's amazing what you can learn if "holistic training" methods are used to teach complex technical concepts in plain old English by a knowledgeable presenter. If you are a computer programmer, and especially if you are fluent in one or more Microsoft languages, you will probably have an easier time understanding and retaining the concepts presented, but a dedicated network administrator will benefit tremendously by mastering the same topics, although it may take a little longer.

Inside Windows 2000 DVD
Sample review questions like this one on the kernel are simple, but they're effective in reinforcing concepts discussed in each module. To download and view a sample 44MB video module from the DVD, go to http://www.solsem.com/
vid_sample.html
.

Review and Lab Exercises
At the end of each module is a short five- to seven-question review test. The questions and answers are simple but effective. Following the review are one or more lab exercises that are designed for you to get hand-on experience with the tools and methods just presented. The workbook has step-by-step instructions for you to follow or you can simply watch the recorded lab demos on the DVD. The labs are short and fairly simplistic and help reinforce what was just learned.

Closing Statement
If you are serious about your profession as a network admin or programmer and want to hone your troubleshooting skills at the operating system level, you will need to dig deep into the inner workings of the operating system itself. It's not rocket science but it sure does look like it to the uninitiated. Win2K is a complex and powerful OS and you need all the help you can get to understand its complexity. Inside Microsoft Win2K is an excellent product and resource that accomplished just that. It explains the concepts, techniques and tools to working effectively under the Win2K hood, in plain old English. It provides a framework for understanding the myriad of interconnected components that make up Win2K. I highly recommend you pick up a copy and get out the elbow grease and the wrenches. With this tutorial as your companion, you won't be afraid to get dirty and troubleshoot and fix any Win2K problem that before would have left you stranded on the side of the road.

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