SP5 Represents a Tactical Departure for Microsoft

Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 5 (SP5) represents a shift in strategy for Microsoft to try to make the upgrades a "yawn," a company official says.

DALLAS -- Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 5 (SP5) represents a shift in strategy for Microsoft Corp. to try to make the upgrades a "yawn," a company official says.

"What we’re trying to do is release [Service Packs] on a regular schedule," says Brian Komar, a product manger on Microsoft’s enterprise OS courseware team. Komar gave a presentation on service packs at TechEd ’99 in late May.

Although there is agreement for regular releases, no decision has been made about whether to schedule service packs two times or four times per year, Komar says. An SP6 should be forthcoming before year’s end, he added.

The most important change is separating new features from the service packs. SP4, for example, included the Security Configuration Manager, NetShow Services 3.0, Web-based enterprise management, Internet Explorer 4.01 SP1 and Microsoft Message Queue for Windows 95 Client. SP5 is 300 bug fixes.

"There will be no more new features in the service packs," Komar says flatly. "The focus will be on fixing bugs raised by customers."

In the same vein, patches for Year 2000 and other problems in applications such as Internet Explorer and Site Server will no longer be addressed in Windows NT/2000 service packs. "These are not part of NT 4.0. It is part of your Y2K-getting ready to keep it in mind," Komar says of the related applications’ Y2K status.

Microsoft says SP5 is not necessary for full Y2K compliance. SP4 shops that install the post-SP4 Y2K patch will also enjoy Y2K-compliant status. Companies interested in upgrading to SP5 from SP3, which is not fully Y2K compliant, may do so without installing SP4 first. SP5 can also be applied before the Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack, although IT managers who go that route must reapply SP5 if they decide later to install the Option Pack.

Performance tuning improvements apparently will be included in the next generation service packs. Aside from fixing more than 20 memory leaks, SP5 enhancements for datacenter users include Winlogon improvements, additional Eventlog features and a reduced page pool.

Microsoft is making an effort to avoid putting IT staff on a service pack treadmill, Komar says. The company has set up an engineering team dedicated to service packs; hotfix releases will be made available for several versions of service packs simultaneously; and users will not be required to have the latest service pack to get Microsoft support. In addition, documentation will now be included for every bug fix and every file change.

To ease service pack deployment in Windows 2000 systems, Microsoft plans to use slipstreaming. The technique involves copying Windows 2000 installation files to a directory, copying overtop the latest service pack and hotfixes and performing installation from the "patched" installation source.

SP5 hit the Web May 5, but the 128-bit encryption version was pulled almost immediately because Web servers couldn’t handle the demand. The 128-bit version is back on the Web at http://support.microsoft.com/support/ntserver/content/servicepacks/ along with two post-SP5 hotfixes.

Microsoft is also developing a separate SP5 for Windows NT 4.0, Terminal Server Edition.