Service Pack 4 Finally Arrives for NT 4.0

Almost a year-and-a-half after launching Service Pack 3, Microsoft Corp. finally unveiled Service Pack 4 for Windows NT 4.0. The long awaited upgrade/update includes new bug fixes, scalability improvements and a slew of new features.

SP4 includes a collection of hot fixes and new debugging tools.

Almost a year-and-a-half after launching Service Pack 3, Microsoft Corp. finally unveiled Service Pack 4 for Windows NT 4.0. The long awaited upgrade/update includes new bug fixes, scalability improvements and a slew of new features.

Released two weeks ago at the Networld+Interop trade show in Atlanta, Microsoft’s positioning SP4 as an update release that strengthens the existing Windows NT 4.0 code base, improves Windows NT 4.0’s overall scalability and reliability and introduces additional security enhancements. "The No. 1 request from customers was to deliver a single source of all bug fixes and focus on improving the overall quality of the platform with Service Pack 4.0," said Jim Allchin, senior vice president of Microsoft’s personal and business systems groups.

SP4 incorporates all of the bug updates and fixes issued by Microsoft during the 16 months since the release of SP3, the last major service pack update for Windows NT 4.0. In addition, SP4 includes new support tools for Windows NT, such as Kernel Debugger Extensions, Pool Enhancements and a Kernel Memory Space Analyzer, a tool that Microsoft says enhances the supportability of Windows NT by providing advanced tools for crash dump analysis.

SP4 also corrects problems with Windows NT’s Year 2000 readiness and includes functionality that is expected to improve interoperability with NetWare systems. New support for Microsoft’s Web-Based Enterprise Management initiative was added, too.

Also, a new Security Configuration Editor utility was included that allows administrators to more easily lock down client workstations and servers. Many feel this tool could be the service pack release’s most significant value-added feature.

According to David LeBlanc, a senior Windows NT systems engineer with security software vendor Internet Security Systems Inc. (Atlanta, www.iss.net), SP4 is a vital release for its ratcheting-up of the overall security of the Windows NT operating system. "In terms of security, I view [SP4] as essential," LeBlanc maintains. "Not only are there a very large number of security fixes that are rolled into SP4, but the new Security Configuration Editor provides significant new functionality, and will be helpful in maintaining a consistent security posture across the enterprise."

SP4 has been a long time in coming. Part of the blame for the delay is Microsoft’s caution: a lesson the company learned from the release of bug-ridden Service Pack 2 for Windows NT in December 1997. After more than 140 bugs were discovered in SP2, Microsoft instituted a service pack beta-testing program that resulted in an essentially bug-free Service Pack 3, which was released in May 1997. To this day, however, many IT managers remain wary of Microsoft’s service pack releases, whatever their purported importance.

"I think we all still remember the issues surrounding SP2, and I don't think anyone will jump the gun with SP4," observes Frank Knobbe, a senior security consultant with systems integrator MicroAge (Nashville, Tenn., www.microage.com). Although he acknowledges that he has deployed SP4 on his personal Windows NT Workstation, Knobbe indicates that he doesn’t plan to recommend that his customers deploy SP4 on production servers for quite some time. "I will give SP4 one month to perform well in order to recommend it to all of our customers, and another two months [in order to recommend it for use with] mission critical machines," he affirms.