Microsofts Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 Rolls Out Trouble

Included automatic update agent can be dangerous, and 'hide IE' feature is inadequate.

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Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 was released earlier this month, consolidating more than a year of security patches and other bug fixes since Service Pack 2 shipped. It, along with related documentation, can be found at

SP3 includes the contents of Service Pack 1, Service Pack 2 and Windows 2000 Security Rollup Package Version 1, as well as many additional fixes. As such, it should be applied but only after appropriate testing.

The service pack introduces three components: Microsoft Corp.s automatic update agent (which, if configured to apply updates automatically, will unfortunately also reboot machines automatically); Microsoft Installer 2.0; and a seriously ineffective tool to hide the presence of Internet Explorer, Outlook Express and Windows Media Player.

As with other service packs, caveat emptor. Windows 2000 SP3 installed without error messages for us on Microsoft Web server, Domain Name System, domain controller and IBM database server boxes running Windows 2000 Server, and weve been running those systems on SP3 for a week with no application breakage.

Others havent had that experience. SP3 early adopters posting their difficulties on Microsofts support newsgroups report crashes, blue screens on boot and other troubles on machines. Machines with Logitech Inc. mouse drivers, Symantec Corp.s Norton Personal Firewall and Promise Technology Inc. Ultra100 IDE controllers all had compatibility problems with SP3 for at least some posters. Our memory of Windows NT Service Pack 6, which broke IBMs Lotus divisions Notes servers, is still a recent one, too.

As with any major operating system upgrade, theres no substitute for local testing. Two important pre-installation tasks are updating the system repair disk before installing SP3 (as the installer advises), so a system repair can be done after the service pack install, and choosing to save system files so the service pack can be uninstalled.

We also caution that installing SP3 does not, on its own, result in a fully patched-up default Windows 2000 installation: The Windows Update site already contains a security update marked "critical" for Windows Media Player (Q320920) that is not included in the service pack.

The update site suggests upgrading to Internet Explorer 5.5 SP2, but Windows 2000 SP3 does automatically update the default Internet Explorer 5.01 installed with Windows 2000 to Internet Explorer 5.01 SP2 and so applies the latest security fixes.