Microsoft has released its first Service Pack for Windows Server 2003, claiming to have addressed a number of the security issues that have caused headaches for corporate users.

Chief among the features in SP1 (Service Pack 1) is the Security Configuration Wizard, which is claimed to help reduce the "attack surface" by collecting data about specific server roles and then automatically blocking all services and ports that are not needed to carry out those roles.

SP1 also contains Microsoft's Windows Firewall, permitting network-wide control though Group Policy. The firewall, which was also released with Windows XP Service Pack 2, serves as a host firewall around each client and server on the network.

"We spent a lot of time not just implementing existing security fixes, but also changing some of the root cause behaviours, said said Samm DiStasio, Windows Server product director. At least one analyst feels the company has done a thorough job in addressing the range of security problems that keep many IT administrators up at night.

"We consistently find that customers look forward to a first service pack after a product release to bolster the security of the Windows environment. In the case of SP1, it looks like Microsoft has brought forward not just the normal collection of updates, but several tools that promote more secure network configurations," said Al Gillen, research director for system software at IDC.

Other security improvements in the release include Internet Information Services 6.0 Auditing, which allows administrators to better identify potential malicious users in case a data store becomes corrupted. The company has also added Network Access Quarantine Control components that let administrators isolate out-of-date virtual private network assets, a Microsoft spokesman said.

Microsoft has made some performance and reliability improvements to the product, thanks to enhancements made in the area of memory management, according to DiStasio.

Separately, Microsoft announced on Thursday that it will make the first Service Pack available for its Small Business Server within the next 60 days. That package will roll up all the latest service packs and updates available for the product, including built-in and customised integration capabilities that make installing the product less complex.

In a third announcement, the company said it will send its 64-bit Windows Server 2003 x64 and Windows XP Professional x64 Editions to manufacturing. Those products will be available in late April, according to company officials.

The Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 is available free of charge at Microsoft’s website.