In April 2001, Microsoft confirmed that it had canceled development of what would have been the seventh and final service pack for Windows NT 4.0. According to a Microsoft representative, the company decided to cancel Service Pack 7 (SP7) as a result of customer feedback and a lack of demand for NT 4.0 hotfixes. The number of hotfixes that Microsoft has issued since the company released SP6a in November 1999 has dropped considerably.

"Since the release of SP6a, Microsoft has been supporting \[its\] customers with a series of hotfixes in response to specific concerns, including security vulnerabilities," the company said in a prepared statement. "Microsoft intends to continue supporting customers by making hotfixes available as they are needed. However, since the release of SP6a, the frequency of critical problems reported to Microsoft has declined significantly. Microsoft originally planned \[to release\] SP7 late last year, approximately 1 year after the release of SP6a. At the time, Microsoft had produced relatively few post-SP6a hotfixes and decided to delay SP7 until \[the third quarter\] of 2001. The frequency of hotfixes has continued to decline, and now, well over 1 year beyond the last service pack, we still have made fewer fixes than were included with either SP5 or SP6." Microsoft said that most of its NT 4.0 customers run SP5 or SP6a, sometimes with an additional three to five hotfixes.

Customers were looking forward to three major new features in SP7: an easier method to roll out new security fixes, the NT 4.0 Active Directory (AD) client, and high-encryption functionality for international versions of NT 4.0. However, rather than include these features in a service pack, Microsoft has separately delivered the NT 4.0 AD client and high-encryption features, and the company will soon release a security rollup. "This fall, we will release a security rollup for Windows NT 4.0," Jill Friar, a Windows product manager, told me. "It will include all of the security fixes we've released since SP6a, through this summer, chained together in one package. For the end user, the rollup installation will resemble that of a service pack. It's due in third quarter 2001."

The company also noted that it's committed to delivering service packs for Windows 2000 and has released the oft-delayed Win2K SP2 Max. Given changes to the software-updating systems in Windows XP, Microsoft is evaluating whether that OS will even need service pack releases.