Microsoft has delivered several security enhancements for its server operating system with the release of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003.
At the same time, the software maker said it has finished work on the code for the 64-bit Windows XP Professional x64 Edition and the Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions.
These products, designed for systems with Advanced Micro Devices's AMD64 and Intel's EM64T processors, will be available in late April, Microsoft said.
Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) was originally slated for release by the end of last year, but Microsoft in October delayed its release. SP1 includes all the updates released for Windows Server 2003 since it shipped, plus security, reliability and performance enhancements, such as a security configuration wizard and firewall.
"This is definitely the biggest set of security enhancements that we have ever delivered in a Windows Server service pack," director of Windows Server product management at Microsoft, Jeff Price, said.
The vendor last year delivered a similar large security update for its client operating system with SP 2 for Windows XP.
The security configuration wizard lets an administrator easily apply security settings for specific server roles, for example a database server or a Web server, and thus reduce the attack surface, Price said.
"The wizard removes hundreds of steps out of configuring a server for security and for a particular workload," he said.
The simplified role-based configuration in SP1 is a prelude to what the company is working on for the next major release of Windows Server, code-named Longhorn due in 2007.
"Longhorn will incorporate the role-based deployment and configuration more deeply into the administrator experience," he said.
In addition to the security features, SP1 also brings some performance enhancements.
Large Web hosting companies in particular should notice improvements when it came to running a lot of network traffic on a server, processing Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) websites and bringing a large number of websites online, Microsoft said.
Microsoft recommends customers download SP1 and start testing it. The software maker has verified that the update works with most common software applications and hardware products and will provide guidance to help users install the service pack, it said.
Windows Server SP1 is the underlying technology for Windows Server 2003 R2, an interim Windows Server release slated for release in the fourth quarter of this year. R2 will include most of the feature packs Microsoft released since the initial Windows Server 2003, new storage management capabilities and such features such as branch server management and Active Directory Federation Services.
With its new 64-bit versions, Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, Microsoft is kicking off the start of a 64-bit product wave. Over the coming years, many of the company's products will become available in 64-bit versions. The operating systems give users the option of running both 32-bit and 64-bit applications on the same system.
64-bit systems offer users greater computing power as systems can process more data per clock cycle and can use larger amounts of memory.
AMD's Athlon64 and Opteron processors, as well as Intel's Xeon processors, currently support 64-bit extensions.
The availability of the operating systems comes long after the processors shipped.
Microsoft has said it will offer a swap program for Windows Server 2003 that will let owners of systems with the AMD and Intel processors trade their current server operating system product for a version that supports the 64-bit systems at no additional cost.
Windows Server 2003 SP1 will be available for download shortly from Microsoft's Web site at www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/default.mspx.
The x64-version of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP are set to be launched at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), which starts April 25.