WinServer 2003 SP RC1, Update Services Beta Due In 4Q

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Microsoft is prepping new test versions of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and Windows Update Services for availability this quarter, the company said.

The Release Candidate for the Service Pack is due by the end of the year and the beta version of Windows Update Service, formerly Software Update Services 2.0, is expected in November, said Samm DiStasio, group product manager for Microsoft's Windows server product management group.

As part of a briefing on the Windows road map late last week, Microsoft promised to deliver the first Service Pack for the server, Windows Update Services patch management server for Windows server and x64 editions of the server, during the first half of 2005.

During the second half of next year, Microsoft expects to deliver the Windows Server High Performance Computing Edition, Longhorn Server beta, Windows Server 2003 R2 and Windows Storage Server based on the R2 code.

During the briefing, executives pointed to a few changes in Microsoft's server plans, including a decision to push back the release of its Network Access Protection (NAP) service to the Longhorn server. It was expected to be delivered in R2.

Microsoft also decided to turn off the firewall in its forthcoming Service Pack for Windows Server by default to make deployment easier than Windows XP Service Pack 2. When SP2 was released in August, customer complaints about incompatibilities with more than 50 popular software applications led to a hold on deployment.

Despite that hesitation, several partners say they have successfully started deploying Windows XP SP2 to their customers after thorough testing.

The decision to turn off the firewall in the Service Pack for the server will help deployment but compatibility issues won't necessarily go away, partners said.

"The XP Firewall has been a huge [problem] and more of a public relations stunt than an actual security upgrade," said Brian Bergin, president of Terabyte Computers, Boone, N.C. "I'm thrilled that 2003 SP1 will have it off by default."

Jeff Dimock, infrastructure practice leader at Intellinet, said partners need to proceed with the Service Packs for both the client and server with caution.

"While turning off the firewall in Windows Server 2003 SP1 will make it easier to deploy, the same level of rigor in application compatibility testing will be required as in Windows XP SP2 if the security advantages of the Service Pack are to be gained," Dimock said.

Another Microsoft partner said it's a difficult decision for Microsoft either way.

"Turning off the firewall in SP1 does negate some of the security benefit. At the same time, I see it as a catch-22," said Michael Cocanower, president of ITSynergy, Phoenix. "If they leave it on, [Microsoft] will get attacked for breaking everything and nobody will deploy it. If they turn it off, they are attacked for being more lax on security. I don't see a winning combination for them," he said.

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