Microsoft Delivers Not One, but Two, Service Pack Betas

Redmond has posted Windows XP SP2 Beta 1 for download, and also is offering testers an alpha release of SP1 Beta 1 for Windows Server 2003.

Microsoft Corp. is putting the pedal to the metal to get beta releases of two of its most important service packs into the hands of beta testers before the holidays.

On Wednesday night, Microsoft released to its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) site the first beta of Windows XP Service Pack (SP) 2. SP2, which is due to ship by mid-2004, will include bug fixes introduced since Microsoft unveiled SP1 in 2002, as well as a number of new features aimed at improving security. Pre-approved testers for now can obtain the SP2 code only by downloading it from Microsofts BetaPlace Web site. It will be available via MSDN on some, as-yet-undetermined date.

Microsoft also has released quietly an alpha version of SP1 for its Windows Server 2003 product to testers, according to a posting on the IEXBeta Windows enthusiast site. It too is available to testers on BetaPlace.

Windows Server 2003 SP1, the first collection of bug fixes that Microsoft will make available for the Windows Server 2003 product since it was introduced in April 2003, is not due to ship until late 2004. During a Webcast held earlier this week, Microsoft officials hinted that Windows Server 2003 SP1 could potentially slip into 2005. A beta of Windows Server 2003 SP1 is expected by in the first half of 2004.

Like Windows XP SP2, the Windows Server 2003 SP1 will include a number of new security-oriented features, in addition to the standard bug fixes. Among these are remote-access-connection client inspection, as well as intranet client inspection. By testing client systems for security problems before they are allowed to connect to corporate servers, Microsoft is hoping to reduce the potential for virus and worm infections.

Other new features on tap for Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, as noted on the Windows enthusiast site WinBeta, include a new security configuration wizard; the Internet Connection Firewall for IPv6; and an improved version of WOW64, which is Microsofts technology for running 32-bit applications on 64-bit versions of Windows.

Windows Server 2003 SP1 also includes support for 64-bit Extended Systems, namely those running Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processor.

Microsoft executives said in October to expect the company to roll out new versions of Windows Server 2003 supporting the AMD processors simultaneously with the release of Windows Server 2003 SP1.

Windows XP SP2, for its part, includes features designed to remedy open ports, malicious e-mail attachments, malicious Web content and buffer overrun attacks. SP2 also will include a greatly enhanced version of Microsofts Internet Connection Firewall (renamed "Windows Firewall") that will allow users greater control over the Internet access of their applications.

(Editors Note: This story has been updated since its original posting to include information on where to find the SP betas.)