Digging into Windows 2000

Interactive exercises and video animations are key features of TestOut!’s Win2K exam prep materials. But will you be confused by some inconsistencies in the product?

In the past few issues, I’ve reviewed Windows 2000 MCSE core exam practice materials from vendors that include MeasureUp, Self Test Software and Transcender. This month, I’m taking a close look at TestOut!’s LabSim and ExamSim Win2K MCSE core test preparation materials. Each TestOut! CD-ROM features two distinct programs. One is LabSim, the Win2K lab simulator, which incorporates prerecorded demonstrations, interactive hands-on exercises and video animations. The other is the ExamSim program, which incorporates Win2K MCSE core practice exams.

Installing the TestOut! product proved hassle free. Each CD-ROM’s setup program prompts you for the installation information while providing recommendations for optimizing the install. For example, to achieve the best animation presentation, the program prompted me to set my graphics card’s color depth to 24-bit. Setup also searches for a sound card on your computer, as sound capability is required to take advantage of each CD-ROM’s multimedia content, and alerts you if it doesn’t find a card. If you’re running Windows 95, you may need to upgrade the COMCTL32.DLL file before running the product.

Product Information
TestOut! Windows 2000 MCSE Core Exam Preparation Materials, $189 per CD-ROM
TestOut! Corp.
Pleasant Grove, Utah

Finally, if you don’t already have them, setup installs Techsmith Screen Capture and Indeo CODECS. The first time you click on the TestOut! Navigator icon to launch a CD-ROM, you create a password-accessed user ID; now you can store personal settings and track your study progress. Note that to play multimedia content, the CD-ROM must be in the computer drive, as the animations consist primarily of large AVI files that would take up too much space on a local drive.

TestOut! Win2K Content
LabSim The LabSim product consists of various components. For example, there are prerecorded demos that use screenshots to show how to configure Win2K features, interactive exercises in which you’re presented a scenario and must implement a Win2K simulator to resolve a stated problem, and video animations that illustrate general Win2K concepts.

TestOut! Labsim
TestOut!’s LabSim product is intended to help you gain a deeper understanding of Win2K through prerecorded demos, video animations and interactive exercises. (Click image to view larger version.)

I found the interactive exercises the most valuable LabSim tool. The exercise scenarios aren’t complex, but they do force you to get your hands “dirty” working with Win2K as you solve a problem or configure a service. TestOut!’s Win2K simulator engine is outstanding — you can navigate your desktop as though you’re using the actual operating system. On the other hand, many other simulator programs “push” you into the screens and dialog boxes that are pertinent to successfully answering a question. By letting you fumble around in the wrong places, the TestOut! simulator allows you to better ascertain your ability to perform various tasks. The only negative I encountered while working with this simulator was a glitch that made it difficult to find windows that had been minimized.

The prerecorded demos proved the least valuable LabSim tool. According to TestOut!, these demos are meant for students who don’t have access to a Win2K lab setup. In reality, though, you’d be better served practicing with the real thing — consider setting up a computer system with Win2K Professional and Server installed (dual-boot configuration). While some of the demos do offer useful content, most are essentially lackluster walk-throughs of Win2K wizards and dialog boxes that don’t provide the insight necessary to understand the “why” of Win2K concepts.

For example, one prerecorded demo shows how to install Win2K Professional. This demo, though, simply walks you through each installation dialog box with little elaboration along the way. You’d be better off — and learn more — installing Win2K Professional yourself.

In another instance, the Setup Manager simulation starts out well by showing you how to extract the tool from the Win2K CD, but then falls on its face by just leading you through screens and dialog boxes. And, after demonstrating how Setup Manager creates an answer file, LabSim leaves you high and dry by not explaining the file’s proper use. Moving on, the Remote Installation Service simulation walks you through a RIS installation, yet there’s no discussion of the components RIS requires to be functional, for example, PXE-compliant computers and RBFG-generated boot floppies.

Finally, TestOut!’s video animations are dynamic and quite good; unfortunately, there are too few of them. Instead of focusing effort on producing the less-than-satisfactory prerecorded demos, TestOut! should have concentrated on creating more of these animations for teaching Win2K concepts.

TestOut! Labsim video
LabSim’s dynamic video animations are a good way to learn about Win2K concepts.

ExamSim While LabSim is designed to help you gain some hands-on experience with Win2K, ExamSim is designed to test your knowledge of Win2K. These Win2K MCSE core practice tests are quite good, with well-structured questions, good explanations, adequate technical references and question pools large enough to avoid repetition.

The practice exams are designed for learning and aren’t overly complex. I found the technical content accurate — with some minor exceptions. One inaccuracy occurs on the Win2K Professional practice exam. One question states that a Win2K Group Policy can affect settings for users, groups and computers. Although Group Policy can be filtered (selectively applied) to users based on their memberships in groups, the settings themselves are applied to a user at logon or computer at boot-up, but not to a group of users.

When you want to take a TestOut! exam, you can take a “Typical Exam,” which tests you on all concepts you’d expect to see on an actual Win2K exam, or you can take a “Self Study Exam” in which you narrow your study focus by exploring a particular topic.

After putting the LabSim and ExamSim products through their paces, I was struck by the gap between the concepts covered in LabSim and those you’re tested on in the ExamSim product. For example, in LabSim’s coverage of network infrastructure there’s no mention of supernetting, but the ExamSim practice test contains numerous questions concerning supernetting. I found the same to be true of questions related to topics such as WINS, DNS and NAT.

What’s All This Mean?
Overall, TestOut! sells a fine product that can help you prepare for the Win2K MCSE exams. TestOut!’s strong points are the interactive exercises found in the LabSim product and the well-structured questions that make up ExamSim. At the same time, though, there’s simply too large a gap between the concepts covered in LabSim and the concepts you’re tested on in ExamSim for this product to serve as your only exam-preparation tool.

LabSim’s animated videos are good; unfortunately, these learning tools are few and far between. You’d be well advised to combine the LabSim and ExamSim products with some good self-study guides. Let’s hope that, in the future, TestOut! will refine its product and take it to the next level by creating more content that promotes Win2K knowledge building.


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