Microsoft Releases SP6a

Microsoft Corp. has reposted Service Pack 6 for Windows NT 4.0 because of problems with WINSOCK calls and the operating system’s TCPIP.SYS file.

The WINSOCK problem affected users of Lotus Notes, one of the most common third-party applications on NT systems. Dubbed SP6a, the updated version is available at

While Microsoft’s October release of SP6 isn’t a flashback to the days of SP2-induced mayhem, it does suggest a disconnect between Microsoft and its third-party software vendors, one analyst says.

“I know that Microsoft does extensive testing of their software, but I suspect that this testing is in an all Microsoft environment,” says Dan Kusnetzky, director of worldwide operating environment at International Data Corp. ( “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.”

The most significant problem affecting SP6-updated systems was an incompatibility with the Lotus Notes messaging and mail platform. After SP6 was applied to a Windows NT system running Lotus Notes, end users could only access e-mail if they had administrator-level privileges.

According to Microsoft Knowledge Base article Q245678, “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 the NTBugtraq Mailing List, 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].”

Cooper also revealed that according to the results of a poll he’s conducting on his Web site, fewer than 25 percent of respondents have implemented SP6.

In addition to the high-profile WINSOCK problem, end users reported SP6 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. Stephen Swoyer

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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