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Windows XP Service Pack 2 Available

Should You Install Microsoft's Windows XP SP2?


Microsoft has released Service Pack 2 to much of the world, and developers and early adopters world-wide have started installing this latest set of patches with mixed results.  Some testers have reported that the patch, once installed, caused three out of five machines to become completely unusable.  Not a very good record, but it is a familiar refrain with those who have attempted early installations of some of Microsoft's previous Service Packs.

SP2 is a major upgrade to the Windows XP operating system providing a set of security changes to XP.  Among the changes included are the introduction of:

  • Windows Firewall, replacing the old Connection Firewall.
  • Anti-virus capabilities built into Windows.
  • Windows Security Center
The new Windows Firewall is enabled by default and starts itself up before other programs in the boot sequence.  Some users have found this firewall annoying, as it requires special configuration for certain programs and generates warnings for others.  The Firewall only protects the user's computer from in-bound threats, and does not stop an infected machine from attempting to spread its infection to other computers.

The new anti-virus capabilities are provided by the "firewall," and have proven useful for users who don't currently have anti-virus software installed on their computers.  A major flaw, however, is that third-party software can disable firewall features leading to an insecure machine.  Readers of past articles will recall that many viruses and worms attempt to disable anti-virus software and firewalls as one of their first acts.

Broken Applications

The top reported problem with Windows XP SP2?  Programs that don't work anymore.  There are known problems with numerous applications, including some from Microsoft.  Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus breaks in SP2, but Symantec has released a new version that will work properly with SP2.  You can expect similar problems with other security applications.

Programs that create numerous connections to other computers are slowed down by SP2.  This new "feature" was added by Microsoft to stop the spread of various worms, such as Sasser, but break various client/server applications.

Other programs with reported problems include Visual Studio.Net 2003, Microsoft Access 2003, Novell BorderManager, Style XP, the Thief III game, Radio Userland, Crimson Editor 3.60, the Tablet PC's OneNote application, the Skype IP telephony program, MSN Messenger and the ATI graphics control panel.  Others are being found every day.

Recommendations?

Don't install or use Service Pack 2 for a while yet.  Windows users need to be cautious, however, as Microsoft's Windows Update will be attempting to install SP2 on computers everywhere shortly.  Make sure you don't have Windows Update configured to allow automatic installation of patches, and don't select SP2 as a patch to be installed on your computer!

With Regards,  R. Craig Peterson

P.S.  You don't have to worry about upgrading your Windows XP to SP2 if you're running a good firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software.



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