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Where's NT 4 Service Pack 7?

In November 1999, Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com) released Service Pack (SP) 6a for Windows NT 4.0, the last official service pack release for the Windows NT platform. In the interim, the software giant managed to take the wraps off its Windows 2000 operating system and ship a first service pack for Windows 2000 in late July 2000.

At the same time, Microsoft has repeatedly placated its user base with assurances that it would continue to support Windows NT 4.0 with service pack releases even in the aftermath of the Windows 2000 roll-out. Nearly a year-and-a-half after the release of the last service pack for Windows NT 4.0, however, many users are still waiting.

"This is turning into even longer of a wait than for the SP 4 release," comments Edward Ko, a network coordinator with the Pennsylvania State University College of Communications, referring to the year-and-a-half that it took Microsoft to ship SP 4 in the aftermath of a series of troubled Windows NT service pack releases.

"There are organizations out there who are still running NT 4 and who need Active Directory support and some of the other things that SP 7 is supposed to bring to the table," Ko says.

For its part, Microsoft maintains that it's still committed to delivering an SP 7 for Windows NT 4.0. Microsoft representatives are tight-lipped, however, when pressed to pinpoint when NT 4.0 IT managers will actually be able to obtain SP 7.

Phil Osborn, lead product manager of Microsoft's Windows 2000 Server group, says customers don't necessarily need to wait for SP 7 to solve many pressing problems, such as interoperability with Active Directory on non-Windows 2000 platforms.

"Customers do not need to wait until we can roll all of these [technologies] up in a Service Pack," Osborn maintains, noting that Microsoft has made available a high-encryption update for NT 4.0 (available as part of the Internet Explorer 5.5 Web browser) and an Active Directory client for Windows 9x and Windows NT 4.0 systems.

Russ Cooper, editor of the Windows NT Bugtraq Mailing List, says that the SP 7 delay is par for the course in the software industry.

"That's pretty typical after a new major release is out," he observes. "It's not that often that you see another service pack come out for a prior version of the software. We had service pack 5 for NT 3.51 after NT 4.0 came out, and that was about it."

According to PSU's Ko, however, the SP 7 release is important for still another reason. After all, he points out, IT managers frequently deploy service packs as a consolidated source for bug fixes and for security patches.

"If you go to Microsoft's download site right now, there are more than 20 updates or patches for NT 4," Ko points out. "Sure, some fixes are rolled into one, but a lot of us would rather apply a consolidated service pack rather than even a very few individual patches."

Microsoft's Osborn says that he empathizes with the frustrations of IT managers in this respect. "We are very aware that a consolidated roll-up would save customers time and money and [we're] committed to supporting them in the most efficient way possible," he concedes, stopping short, however, of confirming when SP 7 will actually ship.

NT Bugtraq's Cooper says that he expects SP 7 will appear by the end of Q3 2001, and further opines that NT 4.0 users shouldn't expect more than two to three years of additional service and support from Microsoft.

"The standard policy is two or three years of continuing support after a major new release," he concludes. "So NT 4.0 will get hotfixes for some time to come, but at some point, they'll cut it off."- Stephen Swoyer

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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