"but it would be wrong" (NT4->WinServer2008)

Supposedly there are still zillions of us running NT4 Server. Windows Server 2008 might almost be attractive enough to make us want to upgrade and get back in the realm of software supported by Microsoft. I would think Microsoft would want to make that easy to do, to upgrade directly from NT4 to the newest edition. But somewhere, it appears that some decision maker thought out loud “We could do it, but it would be wrong.”

Some observations based on numerous experiments with combinations of NT4, Windows 2000, Server 2003, Server 2008 and available service packs:

  1. Microsoft could make it easier to upgrade by saying explicitly in an obvious place, something like “Unlike Windows Server 2003, which allows Windows NT Server machines to co-exist as domain controllers, Active Directory in Windows Server 2008 requires that domains be at least at the Windows 2000 native level.” Perhaps this is said some where more explicitly and obviously than in the error messages from running “adprep.exe /domainPrep”, but I haven’t found that place.
  2. Microsoft could make it easier by allowing a direct upgrade path from NT4 to Windows Server 2008. Direct upgrade from NT4 to Server 2003 is possible — why not preserve this ability? At least two possible answers: NT4 systems are likely to have at most 4GB primary partitions, and 2008 requires 6GB in the primary partition. (Most NT4 system install discs were at the NT4 SP1 level, and those discs wouldn’t create a primary partition larger than 4GB.) Also, the device driver model of 2008 is enough different that older devices may not have compatible drivers. Though tedious, it seems the easiest (in-place) upgrade path from NT4 to Server 2008 is to go through both Windows 2000 Server and Server 2003 as intermediate steps. After being stymied by device driver issues, I eschewed in place upgrade and now have test machines with all four editions (NT4 SP6, 2000 SP4, 2003 R2 & 2008).
  3. With all of the un-installs/re-installs I anticipated, I didn’t want to complicate things by involving Windows DNS. Though “everyone” discourages using BIND with Active Directory, I found it painless to use BIND as long as I put the right SRV records in the zone file. (I used the records described in Bob Carver’s Configuring Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) to Support Active Directory.)
  4. With the exception of an old notebook that was already running NT4 Server SP6, and an XP client for testing, all of these experiments were in virtual machines (VMware Server 1.0.6, mostly hosted by XP Pro plus some instances of Fedora 9 hosting). The experiments were relatively painless that way, but would have been foreboding if done directly on real machines.

So now I too still ponder saying, regarding upgrading from NT4 Server to Server 2008, “We could do it … but it would be wrong”.

The robustness of NT4 SP6 was a pleasant surprise. Though I prepared to re-install NT4 as experiments failed and AD changes were made, NT4 just kept on ticking as if it hadn’t even taken a licking. And NT4 domain controllers inexplicably seemed to co-exist with AD even after AD went to native mode.

There’s still nothing so broken the way we’re using NT4 Server that we need to upgrade. We don’t come close to the thousands of accounts limits of NT domains. There are Vista drivers for the “big printer” cited in the May 12 post, drivers that seem to use LPR and not involve the NT4 Server. Since that was the biggest existing problem in our NT4 Server environment, there’s still little motivation to change. And, if printing isn’t an issue, maybe Samba would be sufficient if all we really need is a file server??

Update July 5: see Why I Still Use Windows 95

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