How Windows 2000 was made
Windows 2000 is my 2nd favorite Windows version (XP being the 1st), and it has an interesting story. As someone who really likes old technology, I wonder: How Microsoft made the change from what would be called Windows NT 5.0 to Windows 2000? And how would Windows be if Microsoft hadn't make this change?
For the purpose of testing this article, I used 4 different builds of what would become Windows 2000. From Windows NT 5.0 to the change to Windows 2000, I used:
- Workstation Build 1729, a « Beta 1 » build
- Server Build 1877, a « Beta 2 » build
- Server Build 2072, a « Release Candidate 1 » build
- Workstation Build 2128, a « Release Candidate 2 » build
Build 1729, Beta 1
This build mentions itself as Windows NT 5.0, which is the real NT version of Windows 2000. Interestingly enough, Microsoft wanted to try out a new idea for the setup images, that were eventually changed in a next release.
Also, I found it particularly weird that you have access to a command prompt right on the installer itself. This was probably there for debugging purposes.
Another thing that was removed from the final release is the fact that it asks us to set the screen resolution directly on the installer. Windows XP, for example, asks us to do so after the installation has been completed.
The icons from this release are the same from the ones you can find on Windows 98 and older releases of Windows NT. However, the Internet Explorer icon has been renamed to simply say Internet and the Outlook Express shortcut doesn't have an icon.
There is also a pretty interesting Microsoft Agent item in the Control Panel. Microsoft Agent was a "interactive character" technology, first introduced in Microsoft Bob as Microsoft Actor, that was used in programs like Microsoft Office 97; that was renamed in the 2000s era and whose latest version was used in Microsoft Office 2000. Therefore, I think all Microsoft Agent settings were removed from the Control Panel and added into individual programs (e.g. Office 2000) in the final release.
The file explorer uses the new Web interface technology that was first introduced in Windows 98, but has a bug where it shows the Internet Explorer logo, even on local folder windows.
There are two "Add/Remove programs" Control Panel item, the second one being a sort of wizard that helps manage programs. It was removed in a next build and did not appear in the final release.
The Microsoft Management Console (a program — still present into Windows today — that helps administrators manage all the system in one place; essentially a more advanced Control Panel), now displays a Tip of the Day. This was removed in the final release because, let's be honest, nobody cares about that.
There is also a program called Windows NT diagnostics, that is similar to
msinfo32 in recents versions of Windows.
An early version of the Windows narrator, called "Microsoft Screen Reader" back then, was present into the system but was missing some files and cannot be used in the current state.
The Private Characters Editor (which is also a program that is still present into Windows today) was present in the Start menu. The shortcut was removed in next builds but not the program itself (it is still present, even on Windows 11).
This build somehow supports ACPI, which means it cuts the power after "shutting down", instead of saying "It is now safe to turn of your computer"
Build 1877, Beta 2
This build is the first NT build to introduce a startup screen, instead of the BSOD-like screen present since NT 3.1. The login screen also got revamped quite a bit.
A "Welcome to Windows NT" program, that would eventually be renamed to "Getting Started with Windows 2000", is introduced into this build. And the "Microsoft Screen Reader" is now correctly named "Narrator" and now works.
Some of the roles for the server version are managed using Internet Explorer via a local Web server; and now all Internet Explorer windows (even local directories), shows the Windows logo.
It is impressive to say that a Web interface so well done and detailed has been removed in the final release.
The NT 4-style and the wizard-style "Add/Remove programs" Control Panel items has all two been removed, and replaced with something much more polished and that looks almost like what we have in the final release.
Also, the "Microsoft Agent" Control Panel item and the "Windows NT diagnostics" program has been removed.
Interestingly enough, ACPI is not supported into this build; or this build does not supports VMware's ACPI.
Build 2072, Release Candidate 1
This build is the first one that mentions Windows 2000, and that is detected as Windows 2000 by Virtual Machine solutions. (talking about Virtual Machine solutions, I could not get this build running on VMware).
A new startup screen, looking almost like the one in the final release is now present; but for some reason it says "Servers" (with a trailing "S"), which was probably a typo that got fixed on the final release. A new setup wizard also was introduced in this build.
This build is the first one to generate the perfectly annoying random computer names instead of forcing you to choose one. The shutdown screen now takes the design from the new login screen introduced in the last build (and also the login screen changed a bit); which looks more like the final release. However, it says "Writing unsaved data to disk" instead of saying that it is shutting down.
A program called "Microsoft Script Debugger" has been added, which eventually got removed or became an optional feature. The Web admin interfaces seen in the last server build has been replaced with their native counterpart, confirming that they were not intended for the final release.
Build 2182, Release Candidate 2
The startup screen is now exactly the same as the one in the final release; the server one probably looks similar (with the typo we've seen earlier fixed). Also, this build is the first one that actually changes your keyboard layout immediately when you set it in the installer.
The "Welcome to Windows NT" program has been replaced with "Getting Started with Windows 2000" and now contains (almost) all items present in the final release.
The shutdown screen now says "Windows is shutting down" instead of "Writing unsaved data to disk"; and this build supports VMware Tools and VirtualBox Guest Additions for Windows 2000. The "Add/Remove programs" Control Panel item is now exactly the same as the one in the final release; except the "Add/Remove Windows components" item shows Windows Server components, even though we are on a client build.
After build 2182, the beta version looks much like the final release; so, it would be pointless to focus on the small details that changed, because these are essentially bug fixes. All the builds install on C:\WINNT (except build 1729 that installs on D:), and this is a thing that was not changed until Windows XP; probably to allow better dual-boot with a Windows 9x release.
Microsoft probably released the NT 5.0 builds before they planned “the future of Windows” (which included what would become Windows 2000, XP and 7), and renamed it to Windows 2000 after this plan. If they hadn't made this change, Microsoft would probably have killed off the "NT" branding and renamed it to simply "Windows"; and we would eventually be at Windows 7.1 (7.1 being Windows 11; 7.0 being Windows 10; 6.3 being Windows 8.1, and so on).
If this article interested you, let me know by DMing me over on Twitter or sending an email; maybe I could do that with some other releases of Windows that have interesting stories.