A few weeks ago, Microsoft released SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 4 (SP4) to beta testers. Typically, service pack beta programs are by invitation only; however, SP4 is available to the general public. You can sign up for the beta program at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=410:7B3DB . You'll also find information about how to get SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services SP2 and SQL Server 2005 Express SP2. Reporting Services SP2 includes many bug fixes and some useful enhancements, including client-side printing and new SharePoint Web parts for viewing and browsing reports on the Report Server.

SQL Server 2000 SP4 is a large update. I counted 236 entries in the fix list--SP3 had only 82. My favorite fix is "FIX: "Performance monitor shared memory setup failed: -1" error message when you start SQL Server." I do a lot of performance monitoring and troubleshooting, and this annoying bug kept key performance counters from working if certain monitoring tools, such as (but not limited to) Performance Monitor, were running during a SQL Server reboot.

SQL Server 2000 SP4 also introduces support for 64-bit AMD and Intel Extended platforms in Win16 on Win32 (WOW), which is a major new functionality. SP4 is the first service pack to support SQL Server's 64-bit release. Generally speaking, service packs contain bug fixes. It's rare to see such a major new feature added to a product in a service pack. Most people aren't using SQL Server's 64-bit version today; however, support for hardware platforms that can natively support 32-bit or 64-bit is a great feature. It lets you buy a machine today that will run 32-bit, but leverage your investment to take advantage of 64-bit when you need it. The beta nomination page doesn't have a complete list of SP4 fixes, but you can find the bug-fix list at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=41E:7B3DB .

It goes without saying that you shouldn't deploy a beta service pack on a production machine. In fact, many of you won't have the time to test or play with a beta service pack at all. I often wait until a service pack is released before mentioning it. In this case, I started early because I think it's important that you know about the new 64-bit support Microsoft added, in case you're in the process of making a new hardware decision. If you are, you might very well want to consider a platform that lets you run 32-bit today, but 64-bit in the future.