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Microsoft Quietly Releases SP1 for Office 2013, Exchange 2013 and SharePoint 2013

Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for Microsoft Office 2013 last week with little or no publicity.

SP1 for Office 2013 was released on Feb. 18, according to the date listed at the Microsoft Download Center page. SP1 is available as 32-bit and 64-bit downloads. However, the only notice given by Microsoft appears to have been a short post today at the patchmanagment.org list-serve forum by Gray Knowlton, a principal group program manager for Microsoft Office. Previously, Microsoft had only said that SP1 would arrive early this year.

Later, in a blog post today, Microsoft indicated that SP1 was released for Office 2013, Exchange 2013 and SharePoint 2013. SP1 for Office 2013 can be obtained from the Microsoft Download Center or the Windows Server Update Services catalog or it will get pushed down through Windows Update in "the next 30 days." Exchange 2013 SP1 and SharePoint 2013 SP1 can be accessed through the Microsoft Download Center.

Office 2013 SP1 Perks
SP1 for Office 2013 is a collection of product fixes, stability and performance improvements, and security updates. It includes all security patches through January, plus cumulative updates through December 2013.

Microsoft is specifically saying that SP1 brings the following benefits:

  • "Improves compatibility with Windows 8.1.
  • "Improves compatibility with Internet Explorer 11.
  • "Improves compatibility with modern hardware, such as high-DPI devices and the precision touchpad.
  • "Provides new apps for Office capabilities and APIs for third-party developers."

On that last point, Microsoft explains that SP1 adds support for "task pane apps in Outlook 2013." This is an improvement for developers that wasn't available previously, according to a Microsoft forum discussion. SP1 also adds the ability to "insert and use content apps in PowerPoint 2013 slides."

All told, there are 21 Access fixes, 14 Excel fixes, 36 Word fixes and 11 PowerPoint fixes in this service pack. Other fixes beyond those for the Office productivity suite apps are included as well, including 45 fixes for SharePoint, 35 fixes for Outlook, 36 fixes for Project, one fix for Lync, four fixes for Visio, two fixes for Publisher, eight fixes for "Office Shared" and one fix for the Audit and Control Management Server.

Microsoft's description of SP1 for Office 2013 pointed to four fixes that address issues drawn up in previously published Knowledge Base articles, all of them concerned with Lync functionality. SP1 fixes a Lync 2013 voice cutoff problem. Another Lync 2013 issue where the sound setting gets reset to the default value is addressed. A Lync 2013 screen rotation problem associated with videos gets fixed. Finally, an issue with a pie chart that pops up in place of the Lync 2013 icon in the "conversations" tab has been remedied.

IT pros will have to restart computers after applying this service pack. Microsoft's description states that "there are no prerequisites for installing this update."

The service pack has a couple of "known issues." Installers may see a blank Office application tile on Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 systems after installing SP1. In addition, Microsoft blocked some COM add-ins to Microsoft Office with the service pack to prevent crashes. Those blocked add-ins include Intel's Send to Bluetooth, the Evernote Client for Windows Outlook Clipper and Abbyy Finereader.

Exchange 2013 SP1 Perks
On the Exchange 2013 side, Microsoft talked about some of the SP1 improvements in this blog post. The biggest news is that SP1 will allow organizations to run Exchange 2013, Microsoft's newest message server product, on Windows Server 2012 R2, Microsoft's newest operating system product for servers. Microsoft released Windows Server 2012 R2 in October, so it may seem surprising that organizations couldn't run Exchange 2013 on it till now. However, Microsoft has claimed that the first service pack release of Exchange is always the version supported on any new server OS release.

SP1 adds improvements for those organizations using a "data loss prevention" feature that blocks sending out sensitive information in e-mails. In that regard, it supports "policy tips" notifications in the Outlook Web App. It adds "document fingerprinting" that tracks the disclosure of forms, such as the release of patent applications. Microsoft also added S/MIME e-mail encryption support for Outlook Web Apps with this SP1 release, but it only works with Internet Explorer 9 or later browser versions.

Microsoft added "PowerShell cmdlet logging functionality" to the Exchange Admin Center console with SP1. IT pros can use this added functionality to review the status of up to 500 PowerShell commands in the Exchange Admin Center.

The Outlook Web App gets Active Directory Federation Services support with SP1. Microsoft also added a new protocol for Exchange and Outlook communications called "MAPI over HTTP," which can be used by Outlook 2013 SP1 clients, replacing the Outlook Anywhere protocol.

The Edge Server Transport server role was added back to Exchange 2013 with SP1. It's a networking approach that potentially can reduce the attack surface of Internet-facing e-mail traffic, according to Microsoft's description.

Database availability groups (DAGs) now can be created without having an administrative access point on Windows Server 2012 R2 on systems using Exchange 2013 SP1.

The next Exchange 2013 update release will be called "Cumulative Update 5," Microsoft also announced today. SP1 essentially is Cumulative Update 4.

Faster Releases
Microsoft's faster product release cycle, announced back in June, has had some technology writers wondering whether service pack releases shouldn't be reconsidered as big events for IT pros. Typically, the release of the first service pack signaled a time for IT organizations to seriously consider deploying a new server product from Microsoft.

"There are a couple of interesting aspects here," commented Wes Miller an analyst with the Directions on Microsoft independent consultancy, via e-mail. "First, many of these updates deliver support for Windows Server 2012 R2, which is important for customers looking to deploy that as well who had been waiting for it. Secondarily, this marks the SP [service pack] milestone that a lot of customers traditionally waited for, and for on-premises may still be continuing to do so."

Microsoft these days typically releases its server updates on a quarterly basis, such that it's difficult to see how IT pros can keep pace except by relying on a service pack release. And those service packs may be arriving at an annual pace, instead of once every three years, although Microsoft hasn't been explicit about its service pack release plans. Today's extremely low-key SP1 announcements may reflect Microsoft's evolving attitude toward its "service releases."

Microsoft emphasized that the SP1 release of Exchange 2013 "is a full build" and that "the deployment of SP1 is just like the deployment of a cumulative update." For those organizations using hybrid Exchange 2013 and Exchange Online deployments, Microsoft says that staying current on cumulative updates and service packs is "required" of organizations.

At the time of this posting, no SharePoint 2013 SP1 info was readily at hand, but Microsoft could discuss it further next week, which is when its SharePoint Conference kicks off.

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