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What's New in SharePoint Portal Server, Service Pack 2

Microsoft releases service packs for products to address problems and add new features. Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server recently appeared. Here's what you'l find.

As you probably know, in an effort to keep their products current and secure, Microsoft releases a practically endless array of patches and service packs. Recently, Microsoft released the much anticipated Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server. Unlike most of the service packs that Microsoft releases though, SharePoint Portal Server Service Pack 2 isn't something that you can just download and install with minimal effort. There are several prerequisites and various caveats associated with installing the service pack. In this article, I will walk you through the deployment process.

Before I begin

Before I get started, there is one very important detail that I need to share with you. When you install SharePoint Portal Server, Service Pack 2, the service pack modifies the SharePoint database's schema. Anytime that you change a database's schema, there is the possibility that something could go horribly wrong, resulting ultimately in the destruction of the database. That being the case, I very strongly recommend performing a full backup of your SharePoint Portal Server just prior to deploying the service pack.

The fact that the service pack modifies your database's schema has a couple of other implications as well. Most importantly, the service pack invalidates your previous backups. Specifically, if you have a SharePoint Portal Server that's running Service Pack 2, you will not be able to restore a backup that was made prior to installing Service Pack 2. Because of this, I recommend making another full server backup as soon as the service pack installation completes.

So what about the backup that you made just prior to installing the service pack, and all of your other old backups? Well, technically, they are not actually invalidated. It's just that you can't restore them to a server that is running SharePoint Portal Server with Service Pack 2. If your server were to have a catastrophic failure and you had to perform a bare metal restore, you could restore an old backup so long as at the time you do the restoration, SharePoint is running the same service pack level as the database contained in the backup. For example, if you need to restore an old backup that was made while SharePoint Portal Server was running Service Pack 1, then you will need to make sure that SharePoint has Service Pack 1 installed prior to restoring the backup.

What does Service Pack 2 do?

Like most Service Packs that Microsoft releases, Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server is primarily designed to correct bugs and to patch security holes. The only new functionality that Service Pack 2 adds is that it allows SharePoint Portal Server to index servers that are running IBM Lotus Notes R6. SharePoint was previously unable to index content stored on Lotus Notes R6 servers.

Most of the issues that Service Pack 2 corrects have been previously documented in Microsoft Knowledgebase articles. There are however a few issues that the service pack corrects for which no Knowledgebase articles previously existed.

One of the issues that the new service pack fixes has to do with removing Windows SharePoint Services from a virtual server. Prior to the release of this service pack, if you were to remove Windows SharePoint Services from a virtual server, you would receive an error message indicating that SharePoint was unable to connect to the database upon attempting to open the SharePoint Portal Server Central Administration tool. Service Pack 2 corrects this issue.

Another previously unresolved issue for which there was no Microsoft Knowledgebase article effected international users. Because of a now resolved, search engine glitch, queries containing German language composite words returned no results.

Another issue corrected by the service pack has to do with subscription and notification alerts not being sent for deleted virtual servers. Prior to Service Pack 2 being released, if Windows SharePoint Services were removed from an extended virtual server, then SharePoint Portal Server would no longer send subscription and alert E-mail messages. This issue has now been corrected.

One last previously undocumented bug that Service Pack 2 corrects has to do with incorrect URLs being displayed. Prior to Service Pack 2, if a user were to search the document library for an image file, and the resulting thumbnail would sometimes contain an incorrect URL for the image.

Of course most of the issues that Service Pack 2 corrects were previously documented. Service Pack 2 contains a complete roll up of all of the fixes that were included in Service Pack 1, plus fixes for the issues that I just described, and fixes for dozens of other issues that have been documented in the Microsoft Knowledgebase. You can obtain a complete list of the issues that Service Pack 2 corrects at: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/906337/

Windows installer

As odd as it may sound, before you can update SharePoint Portal Server, you have to make a minor update to the Windows operating system. As you probably know, many of the updates that Microsoft releases are packaged in Windows installer files (.MSI files) or in self extracting executable files. Windows relies on a mechanism called the Windows Installer Service to be able to open these files and to process their contents.

If you haven't heard of the Windows Installer Service, you probably aren't alone. Microsoft introduced this particular service quietly, and aside from developers, most people don't even realize that it exists. Just because the Windows Installer Service doesn't receive a lot of attention doesn't mean that it isn't important though.

If you think back to a few years ago, you will recall that there was really no consistency when it came to installing applications. Pretty much every software vendor handled application installation differently. Often the result was conflicting paths, or worse, conflicting DLL files, also known as DLL Hell. To solve this problem, Microsoft created the Windows Installer Service. The basic idea is that it allows all applications to be installed in a uniform manner so long as the developers adhere to some specific requirements. The result is that users should no longer have to worry about DLL conflicts or other issues related to inconsistent installation practices.

Recently though, Microsoft released an upgrade to the Windows Installer Service. The service pack won't install unless Windows is running version 3.1 of the Windows Installer Service. If you attempt to install the service pack without first updating the Windows Installer Service, you may see the message shown below:

The upgrade patch cannot be installed by the windows installer service because the program to be upgraded may be missing, or the upgrade patch may update a different version of the program. Verify that the program to be upgraded exists on your computer and that you have the correct upgrade patch.

You can download the updated Windows Installer Service from the Microsoft Web site. The download is roughly about two and a half megs in size and consists of a self extracting executable file. The installation process is extremely simple, so I won't bore you with the details, but if you need help there is a 2 KB text file that you can download from the URL above that will walk you through the deployment process.

Service Pack 2 for Windows SharePoint Services

One of the interesting things about SharePoint Portal Server is that it is built on top of Windows SharePoint Services. Windows SharePoint Services is available for free as a feature pack for Windows Server 2003.

The fact that SharePoint Portal Server is built on top of Windows SharePoint Services means that in order for SharePoint Portal Server to function correctly, the underlying Windows SharePoint Services must be functional and must exist in a predictable state. What this means for anyone who plans on installing Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server is that prior to doing so, you must install Service Pack 2 for Windows SharePoint Services. You can download Service Pack 2 for Windows SharePoint Services directly from Microsoft as well.

Service Pack 2 for Windows SharePoint Services consists of a 5 MB, self extracting executable file. You must begin by downloading the file and saving it to an empty folder on your server's hard drive. When the download completes, double click on the file that you just downloaded and you will be asked if you would like to install the update. Click Yes and you will see a screen displaying the End User License Agreement for the service pack. Click Yes to accept the license agreement and the necessary files will be extracted and the service pack will be installed on your server.

Installing Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server

Now that you have installed all of the prerequisite software, it's time to install Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server. I have already talked about how this service pack modifies the database schema, but you should also know that installing Service Pack 2 is a permanent operation. Because of the changes that the installer makes to the database schema, you will not be able to uninstall Service Pack 2 once you have installed it.

Another minor detail that you probably want to know about prior to installing the service pack is that Microsoft kind of dropped the ball when it comes to the service pack's installer. When you install Service Pack 2, the installation process just sort of ends. There is no dialog box to tell you that the Service Pack has been successfully installed. That being the case, you may not realize that when the installation completes, you will have to reboot your server in order to make the update take effect.

With that said, you can download Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server from the Microsoft Web site. The file that you will be downloading is roughly thirteen and a half megabytes in size and is a self-extracting executable. The installation process is extremely simple. All you have to do is to double-click on the file that you have downloaded and then accept the end user license agreement. The installer usually does the rest. Just be sure to reboot the server when the installation process completes. Depending on how your server is set up though, you may see a prompt during the installation process asking you if you would like to configure the error reporting policy for the server. I recommend clicking Yes. By doing so, you are authorizing SharePoint to send a copy of any error messages that you receive to Microsoft for analysis.

Verifying the service pack

Since you will never see a message confirming that the service pack installed successfully, I recommend taking a moment after the server reboots to confirm that SharePoint Portal Server really is running with Service Pack 2. In case you are wondering, you don't have to worry about confirming the service pack level of Windows SharePoint Services because you wouldn't have been able to install Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server if Windows SharePoint Services had been running an incorrect service pack version.

There are a couple of different ways that you can check to see which service pack SharePoint Portal Server is using. Being that you just installed the Service Pack, the easiest thing to do is to check the event logs. To do so, open the Event Viewer (found on the server's Administrative Tools menu). When the Event Viewer opens, select the Application log, and look for event ID number 1022. The event's description should say something like:

Product: Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003—Update "SharePoint Portal Server 2003 Service Pack 2" installed successfully.

Patched and ready to go

As you can see, Service Pack 2 for SharePoint Portal Server is an essential patch that should be applied right away. The deployment process can be a little tedious to complete, but I have provided you with step by step deployment instructions in this article.

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