10 hidden benefits of Windows 2000 Professional

Computer World –

I've never actually heard a satisfying rationale for the death of the software manual -- except that they're expensive. But come on, in the quantities Microsoft would need for Windows 2000 Professional, a printed manual would cost, what, $1 per box? In any case, we're left with online help: no illustrations, no real-world examples and no sense of humor. And you can't read it in the bathroom.

So, to remedy this, here are 10 things about Windows 2000 Professional that you should know -- and should be able to find quickly in that missing manual. These features aren't actually missing from the online help. They're there, just buried side-by-side with thousands of other features. No, what Microsoft left out was any sense of the features' relative importance. (In the marketing department's view, of course, every feature is a blockbuster.) The joy of producing a "missing manual," on the other hand, is to help separate the wheat from the chaff, to put the charms and annoyances of Microsoft's corporate operating system into perspective.

Here, then, are 10 of my Windows 2000 favorites:

1. Indexing services

Any version of Windows can search for words inside your files, regardless of their names. But it's dog slow.

Windows 2000's Indexing Services feature, on the other hand, works by cataloging your text-based documents: text and HTML documents, Microsoft Office files and

e-mail. After creating this index, Windows 2000 can pinpoint text or file properties with impressive speed.

By default, this feature is turned off -- and utterly buried in the online help -- it's left to you to create the index and harness the power of this feature.

2. Expanded Start Menu submenus

Most people open a Control Panel applet the long way: by choosing Start -> Settings -> Control Panel, waiting for the window to open, scrolling to the applet they want and then double-clicking it. It's infinitely simpler just to turn on the Expand Control Panel feature of Windows 2000 in the Start Menu & Task Bar Properties dialog box. The result: You can just choose a specific control panel's name directly from the resulting Control Panel submenu.

3. Opening the Control Panel window

So what if, after turning on the Expand option for the Control Panel listing, you want to open the Control Panel window itself? Easy. After opening the Start -> Settings menu, right-click the words Control Panel and choose Open from the shortcut menu.

4. Keystroke power

The Properties dialog box for a shortcut offers a place where you can assign a keystroke to the shortcut's file, program, folder, printer, networked computer or disk. Thereafter, you can summon the corresponding window to your screen, no matter what you're doing on the PC, by pressing that simple keystroke -- a huge timesaver.

5. The Windows logo key does cool stuff

If you're an efficiency nerd, you'll fall in love with the stunts the Windows logo key can do, especially the Windows key+D, which instantly minimizes all application windows and takes you back to the desktop. Press it again to jump right back to whatever windows were open.

Other goood ones: Windows+E opens Windows Explorer and Windows+V mutes and unmutes your speakers.

6. The Address Bar's secret talents

Not everyone takes the Address Bar tool bar (at the top of every desktop window) as far as it can go. You can type in a Web site address there, too, to launch Internet Explorer and go online. But you can also type in, and jump directly to, a folder

name -- such as My Computer, My Documents or My Network Places -- a program name or path name. And if you type some text that isn't obviously a Web address, Windows goes online and does a Web search for the phrase you typed.

7. Faxing Redux

Savor the ability of Windows 2000 to send and receive faxes; Microsoft yanked this feature out of Windows Me.

8. Mail rules

You can use the often overlooked filtering features of Outlook Express, which comes with Windows 2000, to drastically cut down on the amount of spam you get, to serve as an e-mail answering machine, or to auto-file messages into folders like Work, Family and so on.

9. Off-line files

Microsoft has been wrestling with the problem of off-line files for a long time. The problem: When you take a file off-line (off the network and onto your laptop, for example) and then edit it, two versions of the file exist. But suppose that, in the mean time, someone else modifies that same file on the network. Now there are two different versions of the document, neither of which is the same as the original. How can the various versions be reconciled?

Skip the Briefcase; it's for the birds. The new Windows 2000 feature called Off-line Files (or Synchronization Manager) is far superior; it actually gets you out of document-version hell.

10. Internet connection sharing

Unless you're a computer professional, you'd never in a million years figure out how to set up a small peer-to-peer network using Microsoft's online help alone. But it's actually fairly straightforward and offers great benefits. For example, all the machines in a home or small office can share the same cable modem, Digital Subscriber Line connection or even dial-up modem. This last option can be a sanity saver, because it means that everybody can be surfing the Net simultaneously over a single phone line.

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