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Microsoft releases Windows Server update

Two of the most notable enhancements are a built-in firewall and the security configuration wizard, which helps automate server lockdowns.

Microsoft has wrapped up development on the first major update to its Windows Server 2003 operating system and released it for download, the company said Wednesday.

The software giant said that Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 is currently available for download via Microsoft's Web site and will soon start showing up on new servers. Among the primary benefits of the free update is the inclusion of security enhancements similar to those added to Windows XP with last year's Service Pack 2. Two of the most notable enhancements are a built-in firewall and the security configuration wizard, a tool businesses can use to automate the process of locking down their machines.

"That alone can save thousands and thousands of hours," said Jeff Price, senior director of Windows Server marketing. Another feature helps protect a newly installed server by closing most of its ports until it has been fully patched.

Price encouraged all customers to download and install the service pack. "It's really going to make their lives dramatically easier from a security perspective," he said. "This is really the most comprehensive set of security enhancements we've delivered in a Windows Server service pack."

The release to manufacturing of Service Pack 1 is also a milestone for Microsoft because it is the basis for variations of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP that from Intel and AMD. Those operating systems will go on sale next month.

Microsoft is also using the Windows Server 2003 SP1 code base as the starting point for the next desktop version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, which is slated to arrive next year.

Next up on the Microsoft Server road map is an interim update of Windows Server 2003 known as R2. The company also plans to have a beta version of Longhorn Server later this year.

"That's our expectation," Price said.