Operating Systems and their File Systems

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Windows NT

All of the operating systems that we have mentioned thus far, with the exception of IBM's DOS, are (or were) evolutionary enhancements dating back to the very first version of MS-DOS®, version 1.0 released in 1981. If you examine the issues carefully, you might determine that even Microsoft's MS-DOS® "evolved" from IBM's version. Nevertheless, Windows® 3.x all the way through to Windows® ME evolved in one manner or another from the original MS-DOS® version released by Microsoft, in spite of their want that we overlook this fact. These new operating system interfaces were, for the most part, very useful for the average user, but were not designed for the rigors of use in the business world. During the early part of the 1990s, Microsoft recognized that in order to tap into the growing and lucrative business markets, they needed a more advanced, secure and scalable operating system.

The result was a new version of Windows®, designed and built from the ground up on an entirely new kernel. This new operating system was released in1994 as Windows® NT, with the "NT" allegedly standing for "New Technology". Windows® NT was specifically designed for business and developer environments, and intended for use on high-powered workstations and servers. Unlike the consumer versions of the Windows® operating systems, Windows® NT was not based on MS-DOS®, though some MS-DOS® programs can be made to run through the emulation of a virtual MS-DOS machine. For compatibility purposes, Windows NT (out of the box) supports the older FAT family of file systems, but not FAT 32. Since that time, a number of companies have developed tools that will enable FAT 32 support on Windows® NT based computers that utilize the NTFS file system. Two such companies are Sysinternals.com and Uneraser.com.

In any event, NT's intended file system of choice was (and is) NTFS, which is discussed here in some depth. While most of the advanced features of Window® NT are tied to the use of the NTFS file system, FAT support provides flexibility for certain applications, especially ones that involve multiple operating system installs on the same computer.

Although Windows® NT will read both FAT and NTFS partitions, the two file systems are not compatible with each other!

Several versions of Windows® NT were created, as noted below in the NT history. The first was version 3.1, the naming of which happened to coincide with the consumer version of Windows® 3.1. Windows® NT Version 3.1 was followed shortly thereafter by version 3.5, and then version 3.51. Each of these early NT versions had some limitations, and used the older Windows 3.1 style interface. They all supported FAT and NTFS partitions, as well as supporting HPFS, the native file system of IBM's OS/2.

NT began coming into its own with the 1996 release of Windows® NT 4.0, and continued to gain popularity well into the late 1990s. Version 4.0 supports FAT and NTFS, as did the earlier NT versions, but support for HPFS was removed. Purely from a file system support standpoint, Windows® NT 4.0 was perceived as having one major weakness, and that was lack of support for FAT 32. Support for FAT 32 under Windows® NT is possible through the use of third-party drivers, (see FAT 32 for Windows NT 4.0 by Sysinternals) but not natively. As the 1990s closed, and we entered the year 2000, Microsoft released Windows® 2000, which was a major improvement over Windows® NT 4.0. This new version of NT brought with it many needed features, not the least of which included FAT 32 support.

Here's a brief history of Windows® NT and its progression to Windows® 2000. We have intentionally omitted a lengthy discussion here of the NT, as well as the Windows® 2000 and Windows® XP file systems, as they require a discussion of their own. After the history, we'll briefly dig into the NT file system.

Windows NT Version History

Windows NT 3.1 - July 27, 1993 - This was Microsoft's platform of choice for high-end systems. It was intended for use on network servers, workstations and software development machines, and at the time of its release it was not intended as a replacement for "Windows® for DOS". While the Windows® NT's user interface is very similar to that of Windows® 3.1, it was based on an entirely new operating system kernel.

Windows NT 3.5 - September 1993 - This was a version upgrade that provided OLE 2.0 support, improved performance and reduced memory requirements and was released in final form in September of 1994. Windows® NT 3.5 Workstation replaced Windows® NT 3.1, while Windows® NT 3.5 Server replaced the Windows® NT 3.1 Advanced Server.

Windows NT 3.51 - June 1995 - Another version upgrade that contained a few bug fixes, among other things.

Windows NT 4.0 ("Cairo") - August 1996 - Microsoft's project for object-oriented Windows®, and a successor to the "Daytona" release of Windows® NT.

Windows 2000 February 17, 2000 - An impressive platform of Internet, intranet, extranet, and management applications that integrate tightly with Active Directory. You can set up virtual private networks - secure, encrypted connections across the Internet - with your choice of protocols. You can encrypt data on the network or on-disk, and you can give users consistent access to the same files and objects from any network-connected personal computer. You can use the Windows® Installer to distribute software to users over the LAN

Follow this link to a brief review of the New Technology File System "NTFS".

Choose a platform from the list below to advance this discussion.

DOS - MS-DOS® - PC-DOS

Windows® 95A Windows® 2000 incl. XP
OS/2 Windows® 95B & 95C Unix and Linux
Windows® 3.x Windows® 98, 98SE & ME  BeOS

Notice: Windows® 95, Windows® 98, Windows® NT, Windows® 2000, Windows® XP and
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