Microsoft Kills SP7 for NT4

After a year-and-a-half of banging an optimistic drum, Microsoft Corp. confirmed yesterday what many a savvy IT manager had already begun to suspect: It had officially abandoned its plans to release Service Pack 7 (SP) for Windows NT 4.0.

"Based on customer feedback, demand for NT 4 SP7 for hot fixes, and the stability of NT 4.0 SP6a, Microsoft has decided not to release Windows NT 4.0 SP7, originally scheduled to release CYQ3 of this year," confirms a Microsoft spokesperson.

Ironically enough, some Windows NT 4.0 users were nonplussed by the news. "It doesn't really surprise me, no," acknowledges Christopher DeMarco, a Windows NT, Linux and Solaris administrator with Taos, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based systems administration outsourcing company.

"There were just too many delays associated with it, and NT 4 is, what, almost five years old now? With all of the resources involved in getting Windows 2000 out the door, and with Windows XP on the doorstep now, I kind of expected them to pull something like this."

For much of the last year-and-a-half, Microsoft had indeed sought to placate existing users with promises that it would support Windows NT 4.0 with service pack releases in the aftermath of its much-anticipated Windows 2000 rollout. The last official service pack release for Windows NT 4.0 - SP6a, which itself patched a botched SP6 release - shipped in late October 1999. Since then, SP7's release date had been something of a moving target.

Microsoft is quick to point out that it isn't going to leave existing IT 4.0 users in the lurch. The software giant maintains that it will continue to support Windows NT 4.0 by releasing software patches - dubbed hotfixes - as new problems and security exploits are detected.

Microsoft says that it doesn't expect many more such problems to occur, however. In a prepared release, the software giant said that "since the release of Service Pack 6a, the frequency of critical problems reported to Microsoft has declined significantly."

At least one end user disputes this claim, however. "If you go to Microsoft's download site right now, there are more than 20 [post-SP6a] updates or patches for NT 4," points out Edward Ko, a network coordinator with the Pennsylvania State University's College of Communications.

For its part, Microsoft says that customers were most commonly requesting SP7 because they wanted an easy mechanism for deploying NT 4.0-specific bug and security fixes; because they required client software that could enable Windows 9x and Windows NT 4.0 systems to interoperate with the software giant's Active Directory enterprise directory services; or because they wanted high encryption support for international versions for Windows NT 4.0.

Microsoft representatives point out that the software giant has made available the proposed Active Directory client software separately, and say that integrated high encryption now ships standard with Internet Explorer 5.5.

But what about the abundance of separate post-SP6a hotfixes, which IT managers like PSU's Ko say can needlessly complicate issues of management and security in Windows NT 4.0 environments?

"We have come to the conclusion that Service Pack 7 is not needed, but that an easy way to deploy our publicly released security fixes would be appreciated by many of our customers," the prepared release continues.

"Microsoft is therefore planning to release a comprehensive rollup of all Windows NT 4.0 security vulnerabilities as a single package in Q3 2001."

Although he says that he understands to some extent Microsoft's position on this matter, Taos' DeMarco expresses concern over what he calls the "precedent" established by the software giant's latest reversal of course.

"I think it calls into question Microsoft's commitment to supporting not only NT 4 but, really, all legacy products," he comments, conceding that Microsoft's proposed comprehensive roll-up of hotfixes could be an important olive branch overture to the NT 4.0 user community.

"The thing is, they've been promising us an SP7 for NT since before Windows 2000 shipped, so how am I supposed to believe them when they promise us additional service pack releases for Win2K after Windows XP ships?" -- Stephen Swoyer

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.