Microsoft has typically used the moniker service release to describe its bundles of bug and security fixes, but with Microsoft Office 2003, the company is switching to the more typical service pack naming convention. But Office 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1), due in mid-2004, will include more than just fixes—it will also ship with significant updates to two of its new applications as well as other new features. Here's what you need to know about Office 2003 SP1.

Bug and Security Fixes
Office 2003 SP1 will include all the Office System product updates that Microsoft has shipped since releasing Office 2003. These releases include bug fixes, security fixes, and hotfixes. According to Microsoft, this release addresses the top stability, security, and supportability concerns its customers have reported since the company first released the product in 2003.

New InfoPath and OneNote Versions
Office 2003 was unique compared with earlier Office versions because it included two major new applications: Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 and Microsoft Office OneNote 2003. Both products get a major refresh in Office 2003 SP1, which will bring them to new levels of maturity and answer key customer requests. InfoPath 2003 SP1 includes improved programming tools, page-layout controls, better XML schema and digital-signature support, and richer page-layout controls that will help developers and technical users more easily create new forms.

OneNote 2003 SP1 includes subpage naming; tab resizing; one-way synchronization with Pocket PC devices (ActiveSync copies Pocket PC notes to OneNote); new Web cam video recording; peer-to-peer, real-time note-taking for brainstorming with remote users; and various performance tweaks and fixes. OneNote also offers better integration with other Office applications, enhanced stationery support, a shared-notebooks feature, and better performance for Tablet PC users.

Updated Deployment Tools
In addition to the aforementioned fixes and product updates, Office 2003 will also include updated deployment tools, including new full-file patches that won't require the Office 2003 CD-ROM. The Office Update Web site will give way to a new Microsoft Update service in late 2004 that will include all Office 2003 products and all modern Windows versions. (Eventually, this service will provide updates to all supported Microsoft products.)

Recommendations
Office service packs, like major Office releases, have historically been trouble-free, and given the interesting mix of new features for InfoPath and OneNote users, this particular release will be a no-brainer for any individual or enterprise running Office 2003. I don't see any major deployment blockers, and for users who are worried about Windows XP SP2 compatibility, you'll be happy to hear that Microsoft specifically tested Office 2003 SP1 against that release.