Last Friday, after an unexpectedly long wait, Microsoft released SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 4 (SP4). The relational part of SP4's fix list has 285 entries. I encourage you to peruse SP4's readme files and plan your upgrade sooner rather than later because it's important to remain as up-to-date as possible when it comes to SQL Server service packs. SQL Server 2000 SP4 is available as a free download today at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=9CA3:7B3DB .

SP4 is a comprehensive service pack that includes SQL Server fixes from SP1, SP2, and SP3a, as well as enhancements to security, performance, and serviceability. The big news is improved 64-bit support. SP4 adds platform support for Microsoft Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition, which lets 32-bit SQL Server 2000 applications run on 64-bit platforms using the Windows on Windows emulator (WOW64). However, 32-bit SQL Server tools still aren't supported on WOW64 for IA64.

In my opinion, SP4's most important feature is support for 64-bit options from AMD and for Intel's EMT-64. Both hardware platforms let you boot a machine natively in 32-bit or 64-bit configurations. This capability will probably be popular with customers who might not be ready to commit to 64-bit today, but want to ensure they have the option to move to 64-bit in the near future without throwing away their existing hardware. More information about specific 64-bit platforms that Windows 2003 x64 Edition supports is available at http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=9C9F:7B3DB .

SP4 also includes a new version of MSXML 3.0 SP6. With SP4, the OPENXML statement is updated to use a custom-built XML parsing technology designed to be backward compatible with MSXML 2.6. And the new SQL Server service pack includes Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) 2.8 SP1 (except for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 platforms, which include the MDAC update in their OS service packs.

SP4 improves performance on 64-bit systems with 32 or more processors. Refreshed, more secure Visual Database Tools (Table Designer, Database Diagrams, and Query Designer) and new registry entries provide additional control over security, metadata, and memory management. SP4 introduces new serviceability functionality that lets you remove hotfixes applied to SP4 and later versions of SQL Server 2000 running on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Also, you can enable error reporting for selected instances during the SP4 installation.

Like earlier SQL Server service packs, SP4 isn't easy to uninstall, so plan your upgrade carefully. You'll need to upgrade your Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE) versions to SP4 based on how you installed MSDE's original instance. SP4's home page, which I mentioned earlier, will help you navigate that process.