Latest NT 4.0 cure worse than the disease

Microsoft needs to patch the patch. The latest bug-fix software for Windows NT 4.0 is creating more problems than it is solving. Microsoft has confirmed hundreds of complaints - including Blue Screen of Death system crashes.

Microsoft needs to patch the patch.

The latest bug-fix software for Windows NT 4.0 is creating more problems than it is solving. Microsoft has confirmed hundreds of complaints - including Blue Screen of Death system crashes.

All servers at IDG New Zealand which have had NT 4.0 Service Pack 2 installed on them have been crippled, and Computerworld US has contacted many more users and several systems integrators who say SP2 crashes their systems upon installation, often resulting in lost files and hours or even days of downtime.

A new hotfix available on Microsoft's main ftp site covers crashes which occur because of incompatibilities with mainstream applications, including McAfee VirusScan and Symantec Norton AntiVirus programs - but IDG network administrator Philip Martelli says none of the servers he installed on was running anti-virus software.

"They were running virtually no third-party system software," says Martelli. "The servers affected were from different manufacturers and were all differently configured," says Martelli. "I traced the problem to a conflict between two .dll files."

For the first time Microsoft included an uninstall routine with a service pack, but Martelli says the "irony of it was that the problem with the NTFS .dll prevents NT from launching at all."

Patrick Campbell, chief technical instructor at Tech-Teach International Inc. in Arlington, Virginia, says he did manage to launch affected machines, but the uninstall feature did his firm little good because they couldn't get it to work.

Martelli says the eventual fix at IDG was time-consuming: "On servers with FAT boot partitions, we could boot from DOS and restore the files, but servers with NTFS partitions required drastic steps to bring back.

"It dismays me that Microsoft can release a service pack that can devastate a server like this. It worries me that this happens at all to NT, which should be Mircosoft's model of stability."

Martelli also notes the lack of online information from Microsoft since the problems have been discovered. Such claims have been backed up by an avalanche of similar complaints on Windows NT Internet and CompuServe user forums. Frustration has prevailed among most of those users, many of whom sought free answers on the forums rather than spend US$150 to call Microsoft's technical support.

SP2 was designed to enhance the performance of Windows NT 4.0's remote access capabilities and fix 100 minor bugs in NT 4.0, including flaws related to TCP/IP addresses, memory leakage problems and errors in trying to copy and read files on some CD-ROMs.

Enzo Schiano, group product manager for Windows NTonfirms problems in SP2 but says Microsoft engineers have so far found only two flaws: an incompatibility with the Norton AntiVirus program and problems with its Multilink remote access communication facility.

Schiano says Microsoft late this week posted the software patches to address these two problems in SP2, about one week after it began receiving reports of problems.

But Jeff Asselin, a systems operator on the CompuServe NTWORK, NTSERVE and WINNEWS forums, says he posted a message on the forums saying he has uncovered at least four major bugs.

Users also dispute Microsoft's contention of just two bugs in SP2, recounting a slew of malfunctions that occurred after they installed SP2 on their NT machines.

Problems include an inability to access drive A, lost Internet and other remote connections, difficulty installing a variety of modems and the inability of Windows NT Workstations to access Windows NT Servers.

Schiano says Microsoft is "aggressively and vigorously testing" for further bugs and looking at all bug reports from customers. "If any other problems crop up, we will fix them immediately," he said.

That is small consolation to users whose systems were beset by Blue Screen of Death crashes. A Blue Screen of Death occurs when your screen goes blank and the system crashes.

Scott Rackliffe, vice president of IS at Farm Credit Financial Partners Inc. in Agawam, Massachusetts, says his firm eschewed SP2 and even NT 4.0 because of similar bugs in the Service Pack for Windows NT 3.51 a year ago.

"We were a bleeding-edge Windows NT 3.51 user, and we bled alright," Rackliffe says. "We had the Blue Screen of Death on a regular basis. Everyday we came in and wondered whether or not we'd get any work done because we never knew what hardware and software problems would bite us next."

Stu Sjouwerman, executive vice president of Sunbelt Software Distribution Inc. in Clearwater, Florida, says fixing bugs after the software is released doesn't help users who have lost files and spent dozens of hours trying to undo the damage.

He says Microsoft could have averted many, if not all, of the SP2 problems if it had allowed third-party software vendors to test the bug-fix package against their applications before releasing it to the public.

"The bottom line is that end users shouldn't have to field-test their bug fixes on production networks," Sjouwerman says.

Jon Oltsik, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., saysMicrosoft's release of the "sloppy Service Pack 2" is indicative of overall spotty support.

"Technical support and quality assurance are becoming real Achilles' heels, and Microsoft is not stepping up to the plate the way it should."

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