SP1 Released, No Blockbuster Fixes, No Blockbuster Problems

Microsoft Corp.'s track record with Service Packs didn't worry Kurt Gustafson when he got his hands on Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Windows 2000.

"We've just implemented it on our development servers, and we'll let it burn in for a month. Then we'll put it on our staging servers for a week, then into production," says Gustafson, IT director at GoInvest.com.

"The only reason that I'm not really hesitant about it is the way we implement it here," Gustafson says. "Usually those bugs, Microsoft will figure it out in a couple of days or so and make an announcement. In that time, it's only on our development environment and workstations, so it won't really hurt us."

Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) released SP1 for Windows 2000 at the beginning of this month. Although SP1 was expected as early as June, Microsoft says the release is the beginning of an every-six-months cycle of Service Packs. SP1 is an 83 MB download, also available on CD, that fixes 261 documented problems.

"We've categorized the fixes in four key areas: base operating system reliability, application and hardware compatibility, setup, and security fixes," says Mark Perry, director of marketing for Windows 2000 Server at Microsoft.

The reliability category builds on Microsoft's work with Windows 2000 to present a much more stable operating environment than Windows NT provided. In SP1, Microsoft addressed at least 15 performance problems, including slow DirectX performance and slow displays of Windows NT 4.0-based domain users and groups on Windows 2000-based computers. The Service Pack also plugs about a half dozen memory leaks through the DNS Service, WINS Export List, Lsass.exe, IIS 5.0, and other sources.

There are 24 security fixes in the Service Pack. "There's one specifically that we've heard from customers, and that has to do with the encryption pack," Perry says. As it originally shipped, the High Encryption Pack does not protect Windows 2000 private keys.

Another complaint from end users that is addressed in SP1 is a faulty error message that appears when uninstalling then reinstalling signed drivers from third parties, Perry says. Although the operating system installs the correct driver, an error message has been telling users that the driver was unsigned.

Some observers recommend Windows 2000, once known as Windows NT 5.0, should be approached with the caution one would apply to any 1.0 release of a Microsoft product. In fact, the Active Directory portion of Windows 2000 actually is a 1.0 release. SP1 makes 28 fixes to Directory Services, including problems getting DNS Dynamic Updates to work, crashes and replication failures with the Global Catalog, and problems with user settings.

Microsoft's Perry says the quality assurance program for SP1 exceeded similar programs on Windows NT and other Microsoft application service releases and Service Packs.

Given Microsoft's dubious history of quality control, it's hard to fault IT professionals for moving slow to install SP1 into production.

The last Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack (SP6) was hastily re-released as SP6a last fall when it turned out the patch broke the popular enterprise application Lotus Notes from Lotus Development Corp. (www.lotus.com). Microsoft also ran into difficulties with quality control on the recent Service Release for Office 2000.

As it turns out, Windows 2000's fix also has a difficulty. SP1 breaks the personal firewall applications BlackICE Defender from Network ICE (www.netice.com) and ZoneAlarm from Zone Labs Inc. (www.zonelabs.com).

Some observers were critical of Microsoft for not releasing any warnings that the Service Pack would break the firewall applications, a situation Microsoft remedied with a brief Knowledge Base article early this month.

Stu Sjouwerman of Sunbelt Software (www.sunbelt-software.com) defended Microsoft's design call on SP1 that resulted in the personal firewall applications breaking. "Third-party products need to comply with the new standards for W2K reliability, not the other way around," Sjouwerman wrote in his e-mail newsletter, W2K News.

The Windows 2000 SP1 quality assurance program consisted of deployment of the Service Pack in 200 internal servers at Microsoft and on Microsoft.com. Microsoft distributed the Service Pack to more than 2,200 premier customers in 20 countries.

The main difference in quality assurance was requiring customers to sign off on the Service Pack, something Microsoft also did with the Windows 2000 OS.

"It's subtle," Perry says. "One of the things that we've done in the past was to pretty much leave it up to the customer to send us their go/no-go feedback. What we did specifically with Service Pack 1, we called down to really reiterate, 'Is this product done?'"

More Information on Service Pack 1

SP1 can be downloaded from:

Details on the fixes in SP1 may be found at:

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