Trouble shooting: Service Pack 4 appears after compliance tests

Question from Bud Izen: I currently work as a part of my company's year-2000 conversion group. As part of the year-2000 team, we analysts were about halfway to our goal, in terms of completing our compliance testing. Our standard test platform consisted of Microsoft's NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3 (SP3). Now, here's our problem. Someone in our network services group decided that we needed to apply Service Pack 4 (SP4) and went about installing it without a meeting of the minds or any sort of impact study. There was certainly no approval from our CIO. SP4 began to appear not only in our test environments, but also on our production network.

We year-2000 analysts contend that by changing the operating system, these folks have cut the legs off our compliance testing. Now, we must -- in order to say we performed due diligence -- go back and retest everything that has already been tested. The folks who installed SP4 contend that this change was necessary in order to address some problems that could not be remedied any other way. Our contention is that this could and should have waited until after January 1, 2000, arrives.

From a technical perspective, I would love to know why SP4 was so necessary. The network services group's initial opinion was that because Microsoft claimed that SP4 contained year-2000 fixes, they had "no option". Our claim was that everything we tested passed and worked fine with Service Pack 3, so what were they talking about?

Wonnacott answers: To install or not to install: That is the question. In a perfect world, no system that has been brought into compliance should change until after January 1, 2000. That way, you'll be able to ensure compliance. Unfortunately, we don't work in a perfect world, so we need to manage the turmoil that comes our way. It was certainly inappropriate that your year-2000 conversion group was not consulted on any adds, moves, or changes to your compliant systems. For that, your network services group or the individual who installed SP4 deserves a really firm slap on the wrist.

Modifying the operating state of a year-2000-compliant server is inappropriate after reaching compliance, but in this case, you can't get too upset because the product installed (SP4) does offer a higher degree of compliance.

Now, had this installation been of a new application, a new service, or whatnot, I would have slapped a lot more than just wrists. In your case, though, physical abuse is not justified, although a firm reprimand about not being included in issues that affect your job is very well-deserved.

Basically, there are some year-2000 compliance issues with SP3, but that does not mean SP4 is a must. Microsoft recommends SP4 in order to achieve full year-2000 compliance. Microsoft posted a compliance document update on its Web site, at http://www.microsoft.com/y2k. According to Microsoft, Windows NT Server with SP3 will remain "compliant with minor issues". The bottom line is that Windows NT 4.0 with SP4 will maintain a "compliant" rating, while NT 4.0 with SP3 will maintain a "compliant with minor issues" rating.

Microsoft recommends that customers understand the compliance issues with NT 4.0 SP3 and how those issues could affect your environment. It's possible to make it to the year 2000 with SP3. Once you understand the issues, you can then make a decision to stick with your current SP3, make changes to your SP3, or install SP4.

It's unfortunate that you're having to deal with service pack installations so late in the game, but I bet there will be plenty more year-2000 issues and bugs before the year's end. SP4 includes tons of bug fixes. Check out Microsoft's KnowledgeBase articles Q150734 and Q194834, available at www.microsoft.com/support, for a list of those fixes.

In terms of year-2000 specifics in SP4, User Manager and User Manager for Domains recognise the year 2000 as a leap year. The Date/Time Control Panel applet can now update the system clock. Find Files supports only numeric character recognition in the decade field. Word document properties now recognise both 1900 and 2000 as valid centuries and support four-digit years. Finally, the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol administrator's program supports displaying the years between 2000 and 2009 with a minimum of two digits.

SP4 also includes more than year-2000 fixes, such as: Distributed Component Object Model/HTTP tunneling; support for the new European euro currency; Microsoft File and Print Service for NetWare; User profile size quotas; Security Configuration Manager; Web-Based Enterprise Management services; and option pack fixes and enhancements to Microsoft Certificate Server, Index Server, Internet Information Server, Microsoft Message Queue Server for NT, and Microsoft Transaction Server.

Check out http://www.microsoft.com/ntserver/nts/exec/overview/NT4SP4whatnew.asp for a full list of items included in SP4. No doubt, SP4 is big and not something you should simply install without carefully testing, evaluating, and deploying -- and always remember to consult with your year-2000 conversion group.

InfoWorld Test Centre Technical Director Laura Wonnacott has been working with computers for 15 years. Send her your questions at testcenter_rx@infoworld.com.

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