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Windows 2000 SP3 Generally Available

Microsoft posted Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000 late Thursday, two days after making SP3 available to Premier Customers. The oft-delayed bundle of regression-tested bug fixes is the first Windows 2000 service pack so far that Microsoft has recommended that users install.

The service pack applies to Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, and Windows 2000 with the Server Appliance Kit. It includes all fixes previously included in Service Pack 1 (SP1), Service Pack 2 (SP2) and the Windows 2000 Security Rollup Package 1 (SRP1). Customers running Windows 2000 Datacenter Server need to contact their OEM partners for the Datacenter-specific SP3.

Service packs generally become more valuable with age because each builds in previous fixes plus fixes based on the feedback of an increasing volume of users. While the number of Windows 2000 deployments were very limited when Service Pack 1 was released in August 2000 and Windows 2000-uptake remained somewhat slow at the SP2 release in May 2001, a much larger base of users has gotten a chance to rattle the operating system now and report problems back to Redmond.

Anecdotal evidence suggests users are eager to get their hands on the third service pack. According to results of a running, unscientific poll on ENT's Web site as of mid-day Friday, 20 percent of users planned to install SP3 right away, 50 percent were beginning testing right away and 25 percent were waiting for industry opinion to roll in before deciding.

The Windows 2000 Security Rollup Package 1, a collection of 43 bug fixes released in January, was recommended by Microsoft just as SP3 is, but that collection fell outside the service pack process. SRP1's fixes are included in SP3. To be clear, neither SP3 or SRP1 are required upgrades.

For SP1 and SP2, Microsoft recommended merely that users review the documentation and consider whether to install it.

Analyst Al Gillen of market research firm IDC says the "recommended" status of SP3 is probably related to Microsoft's security initiatives, especially given the inclusion of the Automatic Update for Windows 2000 component with SP3.

"By encouraging customers to get this service pack and then go through the auto updates, that gets them to a known state," Gillen says.

Ever since the Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack, Microsoft has in place a policy that service packs will include only bug fixes, not new features. The Windows 2000 SP3 documentation pays homage to this policy: "Customers have asked that service packs focus entirely on quality updates. Therefore, Windows 2000 SP3 does not include new Windows 2000 features."

But the line between a new feature and an update is fuzzy. For example, SP2 automatically updated 56-bit encryption to 128-bit encryption to reflect relaxed U.S. export policies. Is that improvement in encryption strength a new feature or merely an update? SP3 may smear the fuzzy line further.

Installing SP3 automatically loads Automatic Updates for Windows 2000 on the system and installs a new version of the Microsoft Installer. The big patch delivers new administrator tools and system tools, as well.

IDC's Gillen acknowledges Microsoft's arguments that the automatic upgrade to version 2.0 of the Microsoft Installer (MSI) from 1.1 is an update to a system utility and that the Automatic Update for Windows is not new functionality.

Still, Gillen says, "It looks to me like they're going back to a limited number of new features in it. Some of this stuff may be originating out of Windows .NET Server."

Windows Installer manages installation, modification and removal of Windows Installer-based applications according to a centralized set of rules.

Differences between 2.0 and 1.1 include more comprehensive logging for application installers, resolution of installation issues with many applications, enhanced security and reliability. Architectural changes to the installer and security changes to fix obvious problems like passwords appearing in log files fall fairly clearly in the category of updates. However, support for digital signatures in Windows Installer-based files, seems more like new functionality.

The Automatic Updates for Windows 2000 is similar to the functionality in Windows XP, where a balloon pop-up on the taskbar notifies administrators or users about hotfixes and other updates available for their operating system. Users do have the choice of whether or not to enable Automatic Update. It was previously available as a separate download for Windows 2000 users.

Microsoft public statements about SP3 indicated as recently as Tuesday that antitrust settlement-related changes would be included to allow users to hide Microsoft middleware, such as Internet Explorer. Reportedly the changes are similar to what will be included in Windows XP Service Pack 1, which is supposed to be released in the fall. However, Microsoft's market bulletin and FAQ section about Windows 2000 SP3 do not mention the removal option.

The clause in the settlement with the DOJ and nine settling states calls for middleware-removal capabilities in Windows 2000 Professional, along with other Windows client operating systems, but not the Windows 2000 servers.

Microsoft's installation requirements appear to be getting more streamlined as the company traverses through the Windows 2000 service pack lifecycle.

While the base SP1 files amounted to 30 MB, SP2 and SP3 each weighed in at 20 MB, even though each pack includes fixes from all previous service packs. Microsoft has also succeeded in lowering the amount of working space needed to install the service packs. Network installations of SP2 consumed 415 MB of disk on target systems during the installation peak. SP3 on the other hand maxes out at 335 MB during the peak for network installations.

Microsoft's homepage for the Windows 2000 SP3 can be found here:
www.microsoft.com/windows2000/downloads/servicepacks/sp3/default.asp.

About the Author

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

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