Product Reviews

Mental Exercise

RouterSim's MCSE WindowSim can help you pump up your IT muscles.

As much as consultants or experienced Windows 2000 technicians may think they've seen everything, what shows up on tests doesn't always reflect real-world problems. Setting up systems from start to finish, depending on corporate policy, may not give you the opportunity to try much or all of Win2K's capabilities. One of the values of using a simulator is that you can test your training memory without worrying about changing settings or that someone else has selected the scripts or exercises. Before a behavior becomes well learned, you need to repeat that action at least 22 times. That's a big advantage of using a simulator. I've always considered the exercises the most important part—it doesn't necessarily matter whether or not the simulator works perfectly. What counts is that you know what the results will be and can repeat steps until clicks are automatic.

The study kit is sold only on the Web site and it includes four Sybex MCSE Study Guides, Redmond Exams test-prep software, a bonus Active Directory exam, and bonus MCSA lab (70-218). Each of the labs—five including the bonus lab—offers approximately 50 exercises, split among six to 14 subtopics. Although some of the labs are repetitive, overall, there's a good mix. Particularly valuable are the exercises for the Directory Services Administration and Network Infrastructure Administration exams, as some of the exercises, such as setting up DNS to work with AD, require multiple computers. This simulation is the brainchild of James Chellis and Todd Lammle; as much as I admire many of their literary efforts, there are a number of rough edges to this project.

Wholly exercise dependent—with not even a "task" category—the labs give you several options for exercises. In some, you're presented with a large window that lists the steps, as well as some of the caveats, for a defined task. Clicking on Start Simulation takes you to the Simulation Virtual Desktop, a functional simulator. Usually, you have the choice of Challenge mode, in which you are only given the task to perform, with no steps. Other times, you're presented with only screenshots, in something called Solution Viewer in which a smaller window simply lists where you should click. Annoyingly, if you attempt to click anywhere else in the field, a message pops up telling you to "Remember, click..." If you attempt to use the Virtual Desktop and the larger window (which is still generated) when the program is the Solution Viewer, at some point the simulation will fail, as no next window appears. If the simulation is set to use the Virtual Desktop, you have the ability to click on Demonstration, which performs the simulation for you. This is more useful than it sounds but for the few complicated exercises, the authors could have put in a timer to slow down the demonstration.

The main complaints I have are related to some inconsistencies. Sometimes you can grab the elevator button and scroll; other times, you can only use the down arrow. Also, sometimes you can double-click an object, other times you must click the plus sign. If you close some windows out of sequence, an error message will appear even though you've completed that lab. At times, a completed lab isn't marked on the progress chart; but, for some labs, if you merely open and close them, they're marked completed. Microsoft has never been known for consistency: Given that and the slow machines that plague many Vue and Prometric testing centers, it may be an advantage to have to figure out how a simulation author wants you to proceed, as there's frequently more than one way to accomplish an exercise; but I doubt that was the authors' intent.

In one exercise, you're directed to configure a simple volume after you've configured a spanned volume. When you set up media pools, for some reason, the media choice is left at 2.5-inch Avatar floppies. When you install AD, some of the script prompts don't match the display, in terms of names selected or suggested. On many account policies, where you elect a number, such as Account Lockout Threshold and other account policies, you can get a negative number. Also, some explanations could have been proffered when converting dynamic disks. For some reason, Disk 0 wasn't eligible and when setting up account lockouts, a domain policy overrode my configuration with no chance to change the domain policy. Though these are only a few of the annoyances I found—all relatively minor—they detract from what is, otherwise, a great product.

The introductory screen states that this simulation is, "part of a comprehensive approach to exams." This alone isn't sufficient preparation. I found the suggested scripts, as well as the ability to run the gamut of Win2K capabilities, useful. Coupled with the rest of the package from RouterSim, this can be useful training material for those without the hardware or software to set up a small lab.

About the Author

Douglas Mechaber, MCSE, MCNE, CCDA, is a network consultant and dive instructor and is always on the lookout for utilities that make his life easier, or panulirus interruptus, the California spiny lobster.

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