W2K Patch Must Overcome Microsoft's History

Microsoft Corp.’s track record with software updates has been troubled. This may cause some customers to think twice before applying Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 (SP1), which is expected to debut sometime this summer.

Microsoft’s (www.microsoft.com) checkered past with Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack releases is well-documented. The software giant’s most recent Service Pack release, SP6, introduced several bugs that -- among other problems -- impaired Windows NT’s interoperability with the Notes/Domino messaging platform from Lotus Development Corp. (www.lotus.com).

To send a chill down an IT manager's spine, mention Microsoft’s now notorious SP2 for Windows NT 4.0. The release introduced over 140 documented bugs into the NT code base.

Microsoft’s well-publicized difficulties haven’t been confined to Windows NT Service Pack releases. The company not only flubbed its Office 2000 Service Release 1 (SR-1) this past March, but also botched the Office 97 SR-1 release in August 1997.

Through all these incidents, IT organizations lost untold hours in employee productivity and spent considerable sums fixing problems that probably shouldn’t have occurred in the first place.

Mark Housler, an operations manager with Core Management Group LLC (www.creditunionconnection.com ), a credit union service organization, is forgiving when it comes to many Service Pack- and software update-related problems. Housler believes it is almost impossible for Redmond to certify its software updates for comprehensive interoperability due to the sheer variety of hardware and software components found in many enterprises. But with the recent Office 2000 SR-1 and SP6 fiascoes, even pragmatic IT managers such as Housler acknowledge that quality control at Microsoft may have hit a new low.

"In situations like SP6 or with the whole Microsoft Office thing, [quality control] is bordering on ridiculous," Housler comments. "The bugs are so glaringly obvious that the release has effectively destroyed systems within hours of its release. And these are just test systems, right? No one is actually installing these beasties on production systems, are they?"

As a result, Microsoft is feeling considerable pressure to make certain that its upcoming Windows 2000 SP1 release is successful, says one analyst at IDC (www.idc.com). Many customers have been waiting until SP1 for Windows 2000 ships before they deploy the operating system, so Microsoft needs a trouble-free SP1 release to facilitate a Windows 2000 ramp-up.

To that end, the software giant is leaving nothing to chance this time around. Microsoft appears to have concentrated primarily on patching bugs and consolidating fixes in Windows 2000 SP1.

When it appears, sources indicate Windows 2000 SP1 will patch as many as 300 bugs, ranging from specific language-related problems to more critical issues, such as memory leaks. It’s not known whether or not SP1 will address Active Directory domain controllers' 51 IP address limitation.

SP1 is in limited beta with OEMs, independent hardware vendors, and ISV. It is also available to Microsoft Developers Network subscribers.

"Windows 2000 was the most highly tested and supported product that Microsoft has ever shipped," says a Microsoft spokesperson. "In line with ensuring customers are receiving the highest quality with Windows 2000, SP1 will endure this same rigorous testing process, so customers should feel just as confident when utilizing the [Service] Pack."

Despite Microsoft’s extended beta program, industry watchers don’t expect IT organizations to implement Windows 2000 SP1 until it has been field-tested for some time.

Core Management’s Housler says he will wait at least two months before considering an SP1 roll-out.

"I think I'll wait a couple of months, because I typically wait about two months after a Service Pack is released," he says. "I also like to see vendors get a crack at the Service Pack so that they can address any potential gotchas."