Microsoft continues Windows XP SP2 distribution

Continuing the roll-out of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday began pushing the security-focused update to PCs running Windows XP Professional Edition, made it available on Windows Update and started taking orders for SP2 CDs.

Since signing off on the English version of SP2 on Aug. 6, Microsoft has also finished work on SP2 in other languages. As of Aug. 25, SP2 is available in English and German. Microsoft is on track to release the software in 25 languages within two months and has already finished the Japanese, Korean, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese versions, the company said.

Microsoft advises customers to use the Automatic Updates feature in Windows to get SP2. However, at between 80MB and 100MB, this is a hefty download for users on slow connections. Microsoft offers no-charge CD-ROMs with SP2 for those users and the company will also pay for shipping and handling anywhere in the world, a spokesman said.

SP2 is a major update to Windows XP. The service pack makes many changes to the operating system to better protect computers against hackers, viruses and other security risks. For example, SP2 includes an improved Windows Firewall, which is turned on by default, and offers memory execution protection to prevent against buffer overrun attacks.

With the focus on security, several researchers have taken Microsoft to task and tested SP2. Microsoft has not confirmed any security holes in SP2, but is investigating a report last week by Danish security firm Secunia of a vulnerability in Internet Explorer that could potentially allow an attacker to run code on a user’s computer. Experts expect the first security threat to SP2 to surface within weeks.

While Microsoft has labeled SP2 a “critical” update and urges all users to install it as soon as possible, many business users have decided to hold off on updating their PCs. Because of the changes SP2 makes, existing applications could become inoperable. Many business users have said they need more time for compatibility testing.

According to a recent survey of 117 corporate IT managers commissioned by service management software vendor SupportSoft Inc., 63 per cent of IT managers expect SP2 to be the most difficult Windows upgrade ever undertaken and 66 per cent believe they will incur more end-user support calls after installing SP2.

Microsoft made a network installation package of SP2 available to enterprise customers on Aug. 9 and started automatic delivery to PCs running Windows XP Home Edition on Aug. 18. Automatic delivery of the service pack to Windows XP Pro machines was postponed to allow users more time to block the update. To help users deal with SP2, Microsoft has published multiple tools and guides on its Web site, including a list of over 200 applications that may conflict with the update and a compatibility testing guide that is over 100 pages long.

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