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Review: Windows Server 2003 SP1

The chatter is back and louder than ever, it has nothing to do with homeland security or the threat of a dirty bomb, and any operative trying to decipher the caustic lingo might think the Sith are about to attack the Jedi. But all the talk about R2 and SP1 has nothing to do with the latest movie in the Star Wars trilogy or some suicidal maniacs hiding in caves somewhere. It's what technology specialists are worrying about since Microsoft released the first Windows Server 2003 Service Pack to manufacturing a few weeks ago, and then announced the first beta of Windows Server 2003 R2 available for download on May 6.

So why the heartburn? It's not that upgrades and service packs are looked upon with suspicion, fear or loathing by just about every Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. They are, mostly out of fear, but it has more to do with the negative news of incompatibilities with critical systems that have now appeared, coupled with Microsoft's simultaneous announcement that it is planning to ship Release 2 of the same operating system by this fall. If there was ever a better excuse to put off a service pack, the portent of Release 2 would be it.

In my opinion, as a SP beta tester and keeper of a large Windows server network, you would not be inconvenienced if you waited for a couple of months before installing SP1 on your servers. If you are looking for a target, then shoot for the time Microsoft ships Release 2 (so tentatively named) towards the end of the year. By then, SP1 will be a much easier proposition for you and will have wider support from the independent software and hardware vendors. And by then it will have been stale dog food on the Redmond campus.

So why the notice to proceed with extreme caution,and in some cases not at all? For starters,SP1 went on a cyber-equivalent of the Atkins Diet by the time it was released. Microsoft cut the carbs to get the thing out the door. During the 18 months I was watching SP1 beta, features were peeled off so many times I thought it would release as a blank DVD. Let's examine some of the issues people are having with SP1.

SP1 is not difficult to install. Like all service packs, applications and operating systems that are logo compliant, you can install it in a variety of ways -- from network shares, local CD drives, Systems Management Server (SMS), unattended installations, Windows Installer and Group Policy, bare bones RIS images with SP1 added in, and so on. Getting it on the system is easy . . . but hold your breath for what happens after restart.

Your first installation in a lab will likely be to a single standalone server already running the base OS from a CD. In this case, you'll either execute the installation files or run the Update.exe executable, which extracts the SP bits. The rest of the process is straightforward and your server is unlikely to befall any malevolence as a result of the upgrade. However, depending on what you were running on the server before the upgrade, what you experience after the fact may make you break out in a rash or stub your toe against the rack.

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