Digging into Windows 2000
Interactive exercises and video animations are key
features of TestOut!’s Win2K exam prep materials.
But will you be confused by some inconsistencies
in the product?
- By James Carrion
In the past few issues, I’ve reviewed Windows
2000 MCSE core exam practice materials from vendors
that include MeasureUp, Self Test Software and
Transcender. This month, I’m taking a close look
at TestOut!’s LabSim and ExamSim Win2K MCSE core
test preparation materials. Each TestOut! CD-ROM
features two distinct programs. One is LabSim,
the Win2K lab simulator, which incorporates prerecorded
demonstrations, interactive hands-on exercises
and video animations. The other is the ExamSim
program, which incorporates Win2K MCSE core practice
Installing the TestOut! product proved hassle
free. Each CD-ROM’s setup program prompts you
for the installation information while providing
recommendations for optimizing the install. For
example, to achieve the best animation presentation,
the program prompted me to set my graphics card’s
color depth to 24-bit. Setup also searches for
a sound card on your computer, as sound capability
is required to take advantage of each CD-ROM’s
multimedia content, and alerts you if it doesn’t
find a card. If you’re running Windows 95, you
may need to upgrade the COMCTL32.DLL file before
running the product.
2000 MCSE Core Exam Preparation
Materials, $189 per CD-ROM
Pleasant Grove, Utah
Finally, if you don’t already have them, setup
installs Techsmith Screen Capture and Indeo CODECS.
The first time you click on the TestOut! Navigator
icon to launch a CD-ROM, you create a password-accessed
user ID; now you can store personal settings and
track your study progress. Note that to play multimedia
content, the CD-ROM must be in the computer drive,
as the animations consist primarily of large AVI
files that would take up too much space on a local
TestOut! Win2K Content
LabSim The LabSim product consists of various
components. For example, there are prerecorded
demos that use screenshots to show how to configure
Win2K features, interactive exercises in which
you’re presented a scenario and must implement
a Win2K simulator to resolve a stated problem,
and video animations that illustrate general Win2K
|TestOut!’s LabSim product is
intended to help you gain a deeper understanding
of Win2K through prerecorded demos, video
animations and interactive exercises. (Click
image to view larger version.)
I found the interactive exercises the most valuable
LabSim tool. The exercise scenarios aren’t complex,
but they do force you to get your hands “dirty”
working with Win2K as you solve a problem or configure
a service. TestOut!’s Win2K simulator engine is
outstanding — you can navigate your desktop as
though you’re using the actual operating system.
On the other hand, many other simulator programs
“push” you into the screens and dialog boxes that
are pertinent to successfully answering a question.
By letting you fumble around in the wrong places,
the TestOut! simulator allows you to better ascertain
your ability to perform various tasks. The only
negative I encountered while working with this
simulator was a glitch that made it difficult
to find windows that had been minimized.
The prerecorded demos proved the least valuable
LabSim tool. According to TestOut!, these demos
are meant for students who don’t have access to
a Win2K lab setup. In reality, though, you’d be
better served practicing with the real thing —
consider setting up a computer system with Win2K
Professional and Server installed (dual-boot configuration).
While some of the demos do offer useful content,
most are essentially lackluster walk-throughs
of Win2K wizards and dialog boxes that don’t provide
the insight necessary to understand the “why”
of Win2K concepts.
For example, one prerecorded demo shows how to
install Win2K Professional. This demo, though,
simply walks you through each installation dialog
box with little elaboration along the way. You’d
be better off — and learn more — installing Win2K
In another instance, the Setup Manager simulation
starts out well by showing you how to extract
the tool from the Win2K CD, but then falls on
its face by just leading you through screens and
dialog boxes. And, after demonstrating how Setup
Manager creates an answer file, LabSim leaves
you high and dry by not explaining the file’s
proper use. Moving on, the Remote Installation
Service simulation walks you through a RIS installation,
yet there’s no discussion of the components RIS
requires to be functional, for example, PXE-compliant
computers and RBFG-generated boot floppies.
Finally, TestOut!’s video animations are dynamic
and quite good; unfortunately, there are too few
of them. Instead of focusing effort on producing
the less-than-satisfactory prerecorded demos,
TestOut! should have concentrated on creating
more of these animations for teaching Win2K concepts.
|LabSim’s dynamic video animations
are a good way to learn about Win2K concepts.
ExamSim While LabSim is designed to help you
gain some hands-on experience with Win2K, ExamSim
is designed to test your knowledge of Win2K. These
Win2K MCSE core practice tests are quite good,
with well-structured questions, good explanations,
adequate technical references and question pools
large enough to avoid repetition.
The practice exams are designed for learning
and aren’t overly complex. I found the technical
content accurate — with some minor exceptions.
One inaccuracy occurs on the Win2K Professional
practice exam. One question states that a Win2K
Group Policy can affect settings for users, groups
and computers. Although Group Policy can be filtered
(selectively applied) to users based on their
memberships in groups, the settings themselves
are applied to a user at logon or computer at
boot-up, but not to a group of users.
When you want to take a TestOut! exam, you can
take a “Typical Exam,” which tests you on all
concepts you’d expect to see on an actual Win2K
exam, or you can take a “Self Study Exam” in which
you narrow your study focus by exploring a particular
After putting the LabSim and ExamSim products
through their paces, I was struck by the gap between
the concepts covered in LabSim and those you’re
tested on in the ExamSim product. For example,
in LabSim’s coverage of network infrastructure
there’s no mention of supernetting, but the ExamSim
practice test contains numerous questions concerning
supernetting. I found the same to be true of questions
related to topics such as WINS, DNS and NAT.
What’s All This Mean?
Overall, TestOut! sells a fine product that can
help you prepare for the Win2K MCSE exams. TestOut!’s
strong points are the interactive exercises found
in the LabSim product and the well-structured
questions that make up ExamSim. At the same time,
though, there’s simply too large a gap between
the concepts covered in LabSim and the concepts
you’re tested on in ExamSim for this product to
serve as your only exam-preparation tool.
LabSim’s animated videos are good; unfortunately,
these learning tools are few and far between.
You’d be well advised to combine the LabSim and
ExamSim products with some good self-study guides.
Let’s hope that, in the future, TestOut! will
refine its product and take it to the next level
by creating more content that promotes Win2K knowledge
James Carrion, MCM R2 Directory, MCITP, MCSE, MCT, CCNA, CISSP has worked as a computer consultant and technical instructor for the past 16 years. He’s the owner of and principal instructor for MountainView Systems, LLC, which specializes in accelerated Microsoft Certification training.