Windows Server 2003 SP1 shaping up

Microsoft has released a second preview version of the update for the server operating system, as well as two tune-up versions of its 64-bit editions.

IT administrators are a tad closer to seeing the release of Windows Server 2003 SP1, as Microsoft made its second release candidate available for download late Tuesday.

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The software company also sprung RC2 versions of both Windows Server 2003 x64-bit Edition and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. SP1 is expected to be available mid-year.

Service Pack 1 RC2 includes no feature changes over the previous release candidate. SP1 is big on security, and includes a number of updates and enhancements aimed at keeping the company's pact with customers to clean up its code. Among the updates included are improved ability for Internet Explorer to prevent unintentional downloads of malicious code, network access quarantine controls, the requirement of greater authentication of RPC and DCOM calls, support for no-execute hardware and a Windows firewall similar to the firewall introduced in XP last year.

Regarding the x64-bit editions, RC2 code will be available to members of Microsoft's technical beta program, while code for Windows XP Professional x64 will be available through Microsoft's Customer Preview Program, according to Microsoft.

Experts acknowledge that Microsoft's job in cleaning up on the security front is a never-ending process. But Windows Server 2003 was solid and did bring the company into a stronger competition with Linux and Unix, said Dwight Davis, vice president and practice director at Summit Strategies, a Boston consulting firm.

It's still the system and database vendors who are waiting for the 64-bit versions of Windows, just ahead of their customer base. "The 64-bit OS is a requirement at this point," Davis said. "Microsoft hasn't had a play until now."

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