MS ships patch set for W2K

In what is expected to be a major step toward increased corporate adoption of Windows 2000, Microsoft released the first service pack containing bug fixes for the new version of its operating system that debuted earlier this year.

Microsoft also said it's preparing to ship the first beta-test release of the promised successor to Windows 2000 later this year. Code named Whistler, that upgrade will be the first version of Windows to include some of the next-generation computing technologies that are part of the Internet-based .Net strategy announced by Microsoft last month.

But Al Gillen, an analyst at International Data Corp (IDC), said the shipment of the Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 (SP1) is the bigger news. "It's a milestone Microsoft had to reach before users felt comfortable about rolling out Windows 2000," Gillen said. "Windows 2000 was pretty stable right out of the gates, but given Microsoft's history, many corporations were cautious [about installing the first release]."

The service pack contains patches for the operating system but no new features. Mark Croft, a lead product manager at Microsoft, said the company decided to leave added functionality out of bug-fix releases in response to feedback from users. Instead, he added, new features will be available through the Windows Update service, which allows users to install new and updated Windows components.

For example, Windows Update currently offers SP1 as a "recommended upgrade" for Windows 2000 users, while also offering Microsoft's Media Player 7 software as an optional download. However, even SP1 isn't considered a required upgrade, according to Microsoft's advisory on the service-pack release.

Microsoft said SP1 includes fixes to some of the device drivers included in Windows 2000 and brings together security "hot fixes" that previously were released separately. The company added that it also has changed the way service packs are installed so system administrators can put in both the basic operating system and a bug-fix release at the same time.

The release of SP1 comes almost six months after the initial shipment of Windows 2000. Croft said Microsoft plans to maintain that kind of a schedule, with subsequent service packs targeted for shipment every six months or so.

Separately, Microsoft plans to launch the first beta test release of Whistler in October. Initially expected to be just an incremental upgrade to Windows 2000, Whistler now is due to incorporate elements of Microsoft's planned .Net technology for making computing services available via the Internet.

But Croft said it's not yet known which .Net features will make it into the first beta release. Possibilities include an evolved version of a planned new graphical user interface that Microsoft demonstrated during the announcement of .Net last month, he said. System administrators will have the option of enabling or disabling the new user interface, he added.