How to deal with Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 problems

You've applied Service Pack 3 to your Windows 2000 server hoping to fix some problems, but now nothing works right. John Sheesley shows you how to undo the damage that Service Pack 3 can cause.

No software ships completely free of bugs. Companies like Microsoft produce bug fixes, often in the form of service packs, to solve the problem of buggy software. Unfortunately, the same conditions often apply to bug fixes: They don’t ship bug-free either. As a matter of fact, sometimes patches and service packs cause more problems than they fix. In this Daily Feature, I’ll touch on some of the problems with Service Pack 3 (SP3) for Windows 2000 and show you how to back out a troublesome service pack.

Nobody’s perfect
In a perfect world, software patches would fix every problem and cause no new ones. Unfortunately, Microsoft couldn’t hope to duplicate the millions of hardware and software combinations in existence when it created SP3. So the fix for one problem can cause another.

Microsoft doesn’t provide a formal list of unresolved problems with SP3. However, a quick look at UseNet using Google’s Groups Search (formerly revealed lots of messages left by people who’ve had problems with Service Pack 2. An advanced search on Google’s site using the keywords Problems, Windows 2000, and SP3 returned over 4,830 results. That doesn’t mean that all 4,830 postings were individual problems with SP3, but it shows that many people are having problems after installing SP3. Some of these problems are:
  • Problems printing in Terminal Services sessions.
  • Problems with Terminal Services connecting to a licensing server.
  • File-locking conflicts when using Windows 2000’s Distributed File System.
  • The inability to obtain a proper certificate from a Windows 2000 SP3 Certificate Authority.

As you can see, most of the problems come when you start using your Windows 2000 server to do more than file and print. So if you’re having problems, don’t worry: You just have to undo the damage that SP3 caused. That means uninstalling SP3.

How do I get rid of this thing?
To get rid of SP3, you can either restore from a pre-SP3 backup or completely reinstall Windows 2000 from scratch. If you selected the Backup Files field, you can safely back out SP3. If you deselected the check box from the Backup Files field before starting the SP3 installation, or if you deleted this directory from your server, you’re out of luck. You won’t be able to uninstall the service pack.

When you select the Backup Files check box, SP3’s installation program creates a backup directory named $NtServicepackUninstall$ in your Systemroot folder (normally C:\WINNT). This is where SP3 copies all of the files that it's going to replace.

Got backup files?
Check your server to see if the backup directory still exists. It’s a hidden file, so you'll have to configure Explorer to reveal hidden files. If it's there, you can breathe easy. If not, you’re out of luck. You can try to copy a $NtServicepackUninstall$ directory from another server, but because each server has a different configuration, the files copied to this directory will vary from server to server. The files you need to properly restore your server probably don’t exist. You’ll have to reinstall Windows 2000 from scratch.

To back out SP3, you have two choices: You can use Add/Remove Programs or SP3’s own uninstall program.

To use Add/Remove Programs, just click Start | Settings | Control Panel | Add/Remove Programs. Look through the list until you see Windows 2000 Service Pack 2. Select it, and then click Change/Remove.

To use SP3’s uninstall program, open a command prompt and change directories to the
%systemroot%\$NtServicePackUninstall$\spuninst\ directory. Run the uninstall program by typing spuninst and pressing [Enter].

Both uninstall programs run the same way. They delete the current SP3 files and then copy the older files from the $NtServicepackUninstall$ back to where they belong. After it’s done, simply restart your server. Your server will be back to the way it was before you installed SP3.

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