Reliable, stable upgrade fixes mostly minor Win2K problems

Microsoft recently released the 63MB Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 (SP1), the first comprehensive collection of bug fixes for the 32-bit Win2K Professional, Win2K Server, and Win2K Advanced Server. Win2K Datacenter Server, which became widely available at the same time as SP1, ships with the SP1 fixes in the box. Given the attention SP1 has received and the number of customers waiting to upgrade to Win2K until after the first service pack, the release of this update will likely initiate a new round of Win2K corporate adoptions.

Obtaining and Installing SP1
For SP1, Microsoft introduced a Web-based service pack installation that is similar to the company's Web-based installation routines for Internet Explorer (IE), Office 2000 Service Release 1 (SR1), and Windows Update. You can download the SP1 files from the Microsoft Web site at http://www.micro soft.com/windows2000/downloads/recommended/sp1/. The Web installation program detects which files need to be updated and downloads replacements for only those that are out-of-date. For most Win2K users, however, the download will exceed 60MB, so Web installation is of most interest to broadband Internet users. The Web installation option also requires IE.

SP1 is also available on a CD-ROM that includes additional support files, tools, and supplemental documentation. You can order the CD-ROM for $14.95 at the URL mentioned earlier. Installing SP1 from the CD-ROM is, of course, the simplest method, but because the CD-ROM is interactive, it's useful only for individual users. Network share installation is similar to CD-ROM installation except that it facilitates easier distribution in a networked environment. Both CD-ROM and network share installations require you to run the update.exe file which you find in the \i386\update folder. Table 1 lists command-line switches you can use with update.exe. You can cascade the switches. For example, suppose you want to install SP1 in quiet mode and overwrite OEM files without prompting. At a command line in the \i386\update folder, you can type the following:

update.exe /q /o

Organizations with Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) can use it to install SP1. SMS can advertise SP1's availability to SMS clients on a network and can use a standard SMS package to install SP1 on SMS clients. The installation can take place and the client systems can be restarted without user intervention.

SP1's update.exe program supports Win2K Windows File Protection (WFP), which prevents applications from overwriting key system files during application installation. WFP references a catalog file, which contains information about the protected files; if it finds an incorrect file version, WFP replaces the file with the correct version from a backup copy that is stored in a hidden folder on the hard disk. When you install SP1, it updates the WFP catalog file with information about the files that are changed in SP1. This updated catalog file (sp.cat) also contains pointers to the SP1-level system files so that subsequent application installations trigger the correct file replacements.

SP1 update.exe also supports the Win2K driver cabinet (driver.cab) file, which contains a wide array of Plug and Play (PnP) drivers. Win2K Setup uses this file, which is placed in the C:winnt\driver cache\i386 folder during initial installation, to install frequently needed drivers without requiring the Win2K CD-ROM. SP1 doesn't update the driver.cab file, however. Instead, it installs an additional cabinet file called sp.cab, which Setup references before the original driver.cab file. If Setup can't find a driver in sp.cab, it searches driver.cab next. If it comes up empty after looking in both locations, the program accesses the original installation location (i.e., the CD-ROM or network share).

SP1 is also encryption-level-aware. Rather than ship different versions of the service pack for systems with different encryption levels, Microsoft ships SP1 in one version that contains files for both 40-bit and 128-bit encryption. Update.exe detects the level of encryption the system uses and installs the correct SP1 version.

Slipstreaming SP1
Perhaps SP1's most welcome feature is that you can slipstream it into an existing Win2K installation share. If you integrate the SP1 files into a share, sub-
sequent installations of the OS will automatically include the SP1 code; you don't need to install SP1 separately. You can manually install the OS and SP1 from the modified share or perform an unattended installation. Because SP1 simply updates files and doesn't add any new features, applying the patch to a share doesn't change any of the default installation features or options. You can use this method only for new installations of Win2K, however, not to upgrade existing Win2K machines.

Also, you can slipstream hotfixes along with SP1 into a Win2K installation share, or you can install the fixes with SP1 on a preexisting Win2K machine. The auto-extracting hotfix files include hotfix.exe, which runs the installation. Hotfix.exe is smart enough to avoid installing hotfix-package files that are older than files on the system. Like update.exe, hotfix.exe takes several command-line parameters, which Table 2 shows. You can also cascade command-line switches for hotfix.exe. See http:// www.winsupersite.com/showcase/sp1_ slipstream.asp or the SP1 deployment guide for details about slipstreaming updates such as SP1 and hotfixes into a Win2K installation share.

Uninstalling SP1
Unless you specify the command-line option that prevents backup of the original system files during SP1 installation, you can later uninstall SP1 and return your system to its previous state. SP1 installation creates a folder, $ntservicepackunin stall$, in the Windows folder (typically C:\winnt); the new folder contains compressed backup versions of the original files. To uninstall SP1, open the Control Panel Add/Remove Programs applet, select Windows 2000 SP1, and click Add/Remove. You can also uninstall the service pack from a command line. At the command prompt C:\winnt\\$ntservice packuninstall$\spuninst\ (or similar), type

spuninst.exe

If you've experienced bizarre results when attempting to uninstall Windows NT 4.0 service packs, rejoice. The Win2K SP1 uninstall routine truly does return your system to its previous state.

What You Get with SP1
Though reports of 63,000 bugs in Win2K were greatly exaggerated, Microsoft did fix a number of problems in SP1. These fixes cover the following key areas:

  • Reliability—SP1 addresses data loss and corruption problems, data access violations, and memory leaks.
  • Setup—SP1 fixes problems that cause Win2K Setup to fail or not restart, a common customer complaint.
  • OS functionality—SP1 updates existing features with functions that customers have requested. Some updates come close to violating Microsoft's "no new features in service packs" mantra. For example, Microsoft updated all the IE components (including Outlook Express and the Internet Connection Wizard—ICW) to IE 5.5 levels, but didn't update IE.
  • Application and hardware compatibility—SP1 provides updates and new drivers for products that customers have requested support for. Since releasing Win2K, Microsoft has issued a number of compatibility hotfixes (many for consumer-oriented products), which SP1 incorporates.
  • Y2K—SP1 includes the most recent Y2K updates.
  • Security—SP1 includes the latest updates for known security problems; hotfixes also frequently address security problems as they show up.

Tools on the SP1 CD-ROM
In addition to bug fixes, the SP1 CD-ROM contains useful updates and products as well as supplemental documentation and support files. Notable examples include the Microsoft Terminal Services Advanced Client (TSAC) and the Active Directory Connector (ADC).

TSAC, an update to Win2K Server Terminal Services Client, is an ActiveX client control. Other TSAC-related tools include the Terminal Services Connections Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in and a Terminal Services Full Client Windows Installer package. TSAC, which supports NT 4.0 and Windows 9x systems as well as Win2K, is also available as a separate download from the Microsoft Web site.

TSAC lets users employ any ActiveX-enabled Web browser (e.g., IE) to access Terminal Services, making it easier to provide Terminal Services functionality over the Web. The TSAC package also includes some sample Web pages that demonstrate typical uses for TSAC, as well as TSAC documentation.

The Terminal Services Connections MMC snap-in provides support for administering multiple remote sessions. The snap-in monitors and controls both regular Terminal Services and regular TSAC connections.

The Windows Installer setup package is a Terminal Services deployment tool for any Win2K version, including Win2K Pro. The Windows Installer technology lets you place TSAC in an application installation share and advertise it with Win2K's IntelliMirror features. The new Windows Installer package includes an updated version of the Terminal Services Client (mstsc.exe) that shipped in Win2K and adds support for TSAC and some new command-line parameters. The next Win2K version will include these new Terminal Services remote-desktop features out of the box, even in the Professional edition.

ADC provides a way for network administrators to synchronize Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 mailboxes, custom receipts, and distribution lists (DLs) with users, contacts, and groups in Win2K. Active Directory (AD) replication is optionally bidirectional. ADC is basically a stopgap measure for enterprises that haven't yet installed the AD-enabled Exchange 2000 Server product.

Service (Pack) with a Smile
Win2K SP1 fulfills many of the promises that Microsoft made during the NT 4.0 era regarding service packs. I applaud the company for sticking closely to its goal of not adding new features while correcting the most severe customer complaints and other bugs. SP1 has proved to be a reliable and stable upgrade for Win2K, with only minor incompatibility problems—most notably with home firewall products such as Zone Lab's ZoneAlarm—which Microsoft quickly fixed. After the sloppy rerelease of NT 4.0 SP6 as SP6a, Microsoft seems to have cleaned up its act regarding OS updates. And SP1's slipstreaming feature will make rolling out updated code much easier for corporations as they migrate to Win2K. My only major quibble with SP1 is that it requires a reboot, quashing Microsoft's high-availability claims for Win2K. Still, for most enterprises, Win2K SP1 was worth the wait.