Microsoft's products have a tendency to start out immature, and only really come into their own after a slew of Service Packs (SPs). Windows 2000 has been much better than its predecessor, Windows NT 4, and is quite usable straight from release code.
However, as the SPs contain important security updates as well as bug fixes and added support for new hardware, it makes sense to apply them. In the latest SP, 2, you'll get support for UDMA 100 disk drives for improved performance, support for newer motherboard chipsets, 128-bit encryption and much more - some 360 fixes.
Bear in mind that once 128-bit encryption has been enabled, there's no going back to the 56-bit variety. This is important if your application only understands 56-bit encryption.
SPs do not contain everything you might expect: for instance, although Internet Explorer is very much part of Windows 2000, SP 2 doesn't have version 5.5 or the 5.5 Service Pack 1 update. This means that to have a fully up-to-date system, you'll need to fire up Windows Update every now and then, in addition to applying the SPs.
Service Packs are cumulative, so SP2 contains all the fixes from SP1; there's no need to uninstall SP1 before installing SP2, either. However, you need to keep an eye on the Hotfixes that Microsoft releases every now and then, and make sure that any critical ones are included in SP2 (or get copies of them to apply while updating).
When you go to download SP2 at www.microsoft.com/Windows2000/"downloads/servicepacks/sp2/download.asp, you have a few choices. Most Windows 2000 Professional users can simply pick the Express Installation, which downloads a small (541KB) executable that checks which updates you need. The typical download size for updating a Windows 2000 Professional installation is an estimated 10MB.
The Express Installation size is deceptively small: Microsoft states that for Windows 2000, you'll need around 190MB disk space for the Service Pack and the files extracted from it; then, an additional 270MB is required as working space, plus 250 to 380MB for the uninstallation files. So, ensure that you have plenty of free space on your Windows system drive, as up to 820MB could be required.
There's a much larger download (101MB) which contains updates for not just Windows 2000 Professional, but for Server and Advanced Server as well. You'll need this larger version if you want to update Windows 2000 over a network share, and if you want to create an updated installation set as detailed below.
While you're on Microsoft's SP2 download site, take a look at some of the additional tools that are available. The Installation and Deployment Guide is very useful for Windows systems administrators, and there are updated SysPrep and Resource Kit Deployment tools, too. If you run the Customer Support Diagnostics Utility, you need to update it to SP2 as well.
Previously, if you had to reinstall the operating system, you also had to reapply the Service Packs, which was a pain. This is no longer necessary thanks to UPDATE.EXE in Service Pack 2 (the program only runs under Windows 2000).
STEP BY STEP Here's how to update the Windows 2000 setup files with Service Pack 2:
First, copy the entire i386 directory from the Windows 2000 CD-ROM to your hard disk - some 310MB of space is necessary. Put it somewhere easy, like E:\win2000.
Second, open up a CMD window (go to Start-Run and type cmd) and extract the Service Pack 2 files into a different directory, like this: E:\w2ksp2.exe /x Substitute the drive letter with the right one for your system. A dialogue box pops up, asking you to choose a directory for the extracted files. Use something simple like "E:\sp2".
Finally, update (or in Microsoft-speak, "slipstream") your Windows 2000 setup files:
E:\sp2\i386\update\update.exe -s:E:\win2000Note that you shouldn't specify the i386 directory - update expects to find it by itself, and will fail if you put it on the command line. You can enter the above commands through the Run dialogue box, or a CMD box; don't use the Win2K DOS box.
Now you can put the whole lot on a CD-R for future installs, or keep the directory on a server for network installs. "Slipstreaming" is a time-saver if you need to do frequent Windows 2000 installs; the main drawback is that you can't uninstall SP2, as it won't be registered separately by the Windows installer.