SP6 Release Causes Some Headaches

Windows NT service pack releases from Microsoft Corp. have a checkered history. While Microsoft’s just-released Service Pack 6 (SP6) isn’t a flashback to the days of SP2-induced mayhem, it did stumble a bit after its late October release.

The most significant problem affecting SP6-updated systems is an incompatibility with the Lotus Notes messaging and mail platform from Lotus Development Corp. (www.lotus.com). Once SP6 is applied to a Windows NT system running Lotus Notes, end users can only access e-mail if they have administrator-level privileges.

The Lotus Notes problem is the result of a broader difficulty with WINSOCK calls on SP6-updated Windows NT systems.

According to Microsoft Knowledge Base article Q245678 (http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q245/6/78.asp), "After you apply Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 6, WINSOCK calls may not work properly. Generally the problem manifests itself when a program attempts to connect to a server."

Russ Cooper, president of R.C. Consulting and moderator of NTBugtraq Mailing List (www.ntbugtraq.com), says problems such as this are bound to occur in the aftermath of a Microsoft service pack release.

"We get this all of the time when we have a new service pack. Typically it’s a result of [an IT organization] not checking with their vendor to verify that the vendor has tested its application with the service pack," Cooper says. "You should never apply a service pack if you’re using any third-party software other than Microsoft until you verify with the vendor [that there is no conflict]."

In addition to the high-profile WINSOCK problem, end users have reported difficulties surrounding incompatible device drivers for network interface cards and some video cards.

Microsoft quickly provided a patch for the WINSOCK call problem and issued another fix for a "Malformed Spooler Request" vulnerability that affects systems updated with service packs 4, 5, and 6. The latter fix corrects a security vulnerability that could allow an attacker to intentionally cause Windows NT’s print spooler service to crash, or -- more significantly -- run arbitrary code on a Windows NT machine.

Cooper cautions that the WINSOCK hotfix is probably a temporary work-around because no one has been able to precisely isolate the cause of the problem. Cooper also revealed that according to the results of a poll he’s conducting on his Web site, less than 25 percent of respondents have implemented SP6.

Dan Kusnetzky, director of worldwide operating environments at International Data Corp. (IDC, www.idc.com), says the persistent occurrence of service pack-related problems with third-party software suggests a disconnect between Microsoft and its end-user community.

"I know that Microsoft does extensive testing of their software, but I suspect that this testing is in an all Microsoft environment," Kusnetzky explains. "Microsoft believes that it is the problem of other vendors to make their software compatible with what is provided by Microsoft. Users, however, expect something else from the leading supplier of server operating environment software. They expect Microsoft to make sure that their environment works."