Questions raised about Win 2000 file system

If customers decide mid-stream not to migrate to Windows 2000, problems can arise

As Microsoft's users know, one company's feature can be another company's bug.

The latest case in point: the Windows 2000's file system, which is designed to supersede the current NT 4.0 file system, NTFS.

For customers migrating from previous versions of NT to Windows 2000, the file system override may not be a problem. But if customers decide mid-stream not to migrate, or have their Windows 2000 betas expire before they've moved completely over to Windows 2000, problems can and do arise. "To the suspicious mind, this could be seen as a way of enforcing upgrades" to Windows 2000, said John Navas, a consultant with the Navas Group.

Navas said he already has experienced first-hand, and via one of his clients, the potential problems when such a situation occurs. "Installing Windows 2000 to dual boot with Windows NT 4.0 will permanently and irrevocably change all NTFS partitions so that Windows NT 4.0 is no longer able to check for or repair file system problems," Navas said. "This change matters if you want to continue using the Windows NT 4.0 installation. Although Windows 2000 can be used to check for and repair file system problems on changed Windows NT 4.0 partitions, current evaluation versions of Windows 2000 will expire and stop functioning. And you may not want to upgrade to Windows 2000, at least in the immediate future, for a number of possible reasons."

Users with NT 4.0 Service Pack 4 or higher don't receive any warning when running Windows 2000 and NT 4.0 in a dual-boot configuration, Navas notes. Yet once Windows 2000 is loaded, it alters any local NTFS volume it touches, converting automatically all NTFS partitions to the Windows 2000 file-system format. "You should be getting a warning every time you load an evaluation or beta disk," Navas said.

While Microsoft has issued a number of Knowledge Base articles acknowledging problems that may result in these type of scenarios, it has done little else. Company officials did not respond by press time to inquiries as to the company's intent going forward to alert users of the file-system override dangers.

For now, the only way to "undo the damage", in Navas' words, is to attempt to restore the NT 4.0 system from backup on a clean partition formatted under NT 4.0, or to rebuilt it from scratch on a similarly configured clean partition. In either case, that's a painful process, as one consultant, who requested anonymity, acknowledged.

"I installed [Windows 2000] Beta 3 on one of my older machines a few months ago in a dual-boot NT 4.0 setup, and wasn't able to check or repair my NTFS 4.0 drives until after I completely reformatted the drive and installed one of the release candidates on it," said the consultant.