Windows Server 2003 patch proves painless

Service Pack 2 definitely something of the way before the holidays

Microsoft guys can't drink. I went boozing with a couple of the Windows Server guys this weekend and we had to scoop one of them out of his pancakes at around 3:00 a.m. Before they lost the ability to talk, however, I got some useful information. First, one of them is working on getting a media centre feed into his bathroom so he can watch movies while soaking in the tub. This tells you something about the mindset up there in the pampered Northwest.

Then we got geeky and talked about Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2. For one thing, I was wondering why an update so large had so little in the way of press behind it. Turns out the SP2 is indeed the largest service pack Microsoft has ever done to Windows Server. But that's really just because it's a rollup of everything since Service Pack 1 as well as SP1 itself -- and SP1 was a honker.

But even while sucking down Manhattans, the Windows Server guys were very clear that their direction with SP2 was aimed at "painless." SP1 introduced a load of new security features that really threw a big segment of the IT admin population for a loop. All of sudden a swath of applications, personal firewall settings, and similar architectures had to be rebuilt to accommodate SP1's new features. That's not the case for SP2. Microsoft says it is hoping that SP2 is invisible enough to install under the radar -- completely.

That's not to say it's without bonuses; just that those bonuses aren't going to be as glaring as in the last SP. This time around, you can look for things such as nine new localized languages -- for the x64 version only. There are a bunch of features with this level of "be still my beating heart" impact. But we managed to dig up a few more useful ones, too.

The Datacenter SKU was a biggie. That's available to volume license customers now, not just OEMs. That means you can build your own Datacenter machines, and Microsoft has tossed in unlimited virtualization rights for this SKU as well. I definitely like this, but it sounded as though Microsoft was tossing in free virtualization licensing at the very top-end of the SKU scale just so they could keep sticking it to us everywhere else. Full details on virtualization licensing haven't yet been released, however, so this may just be my pessimistic nature combined with too many Johnnie Walker Blacks.

MMC (Microsoft Management Console) Version 3.0 is another nice feature of SP2. Too bad you won't get much use of it right away. Whereas developers will be able to make use of MMC to beef up the management tools that IT administrators use every day, the admins will need to wait a bit before this next-gen stuff trickles down to them.

A few day-to-day IT admin tools did get updates, however. Dcdiag.exe, the domain controller diagnostic testing tool, now has an XML output option, for example. That's so folks working in environments with loads of DCs don't get inundated with reams of static log files every time the tool gets used.

Similarly, the oft-used MSConfig GUI version gets a new tools tab. This is actually a pretty cool little update. The Tools tab includes a bunch of related tools that Microsoft's customers said they wanted readily available when using MSConfig. But Microsoft went them one better and not only added those tools but made the Tools tab customizable so you can add your own tools suite as well. Strangely, the window still isn't resizable, which made waves with some other folks in the writing community.

The last noteworthy feature add-on for SP2 is XML Lite. This was previously available as a separate download for Windows Server 2003, and is also included in Vista. It's version 1.0 of an independent XML parsing DLL that conforms to the XML 1.0. It's designed to be very lightweight and aimed for use as a log file parser and similar back-end utility-style duties. Microsoft has quite a bit of [online cookbook information] for XML Lite, however, for those with a do-it-yourself or development bent.

Overall, I couldn't find fault with Microsoft's pronouncement of SP2 as a "painless" update. There is nothing in SP2 that hasn't been available as a separate download before, and certainly nothing that should interfere with existing application architectures. I wouldn't completely ignore testing before fully deploying the update, but I wouldn't wait much on it, either. Definitely something to get out of the way before the holidays.

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