Originally scheduled for a late 2003 release, Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) is now on track for the first half of 2005, Microsoft tells me, but the company will soon ship a release candidate (RC) version, setting the stage for the final release. Windows 2003 SP1 RC is due by year's end, Microsoft says.
  
Windows 2003 SP1 includes the standard bug and security fixes that Microsoft typically ships in its service packs. But the release also includes several important product updates and will form the basis for future versions of Windows Server, including Windows 2003 Release 2 (R2), which is also due in 2005, and the 64-bit versions of Windows 2003 that will run on x64 platforms.
  
Chief among the new SP1 features is the Security Configuration Wizard (SCW), which uses the roles-based administration policies in Windows 2003 to lock down unneeded ports and services, making the product more secure. Windows 2003 SP1 will also include some "relevant" changes that Microsoft first introduced in Windows XP SP2, including the low-level data execution prevention (DEP) functionality that helps prevent buffer overruns and similar errors.
  
In related news, Microsoft told me in a briefing Friday that the Windows 2003 installed base has finally surpassed that of Windows NT, making Windows 2003 the second most prevalent Windows Server version, after Windows 2000 Server. Microsoft expects the Windows 2003 installed base to surpass Win2K Server by the end of 2005. The company also noted that Windows 2003 deployments are up 375 percent this year.