XP beta testers face incompatibility issue

By Carol Sliwa, Computerworld |  Operating Systems

The risks of testing beta software hit home for Xerox Corp. when an incompatibility between a Cisco System switch and a beta version of Microsoft's upcoming Windows XP operating system caused three network outages in a building at its El Segundo, Calif., facility.

A Xerox email newsletter indicated that the outages happened between March 30 and April 4, after an unspecified number of employees installed a beta version of Windows XP in violation of the office equipment maker's corporate policy, according to company spokeswoman Kara Choquette.

Xerox prohibits unauthorized software use. Through the routine newsletter, the company reminded employees not to install unauthorized software on their computers.

Although the company addressed the problem by taking the Windows XP beta out of its systems, Choquette said the outage was "not an issue with Microsoft software, but with equipment from a third-party vendor" that she didn't name.

Ed Chapman, Cisco's director of enterprise product marketing, last week acknowledged that an incompatibility between its Catalyst 5000 switch and the XP beta had caused the problem, which has been resolved. Chapman said the problem related to "the way the switch and Windows XP interacted with each other" with regard to 802.1x security, a new feature in the second beta of Windows XP.

When 802.1x is enabled on Windows XP, control modules on any Catalyst 5000 switches older than two years may forward 802.1x packets to all ports on the switch, potentially causing network congestion, a Cisco spokeswoman said. She characterized the Catalyst 5000 as a "fairly widely deployed switch," although not as popular as the newer Catalyst 6000 line.

Chapman said Xerox has been the only company to report a problem. "There are no hardware issues," Chapman said, noting that the problem was related to software on the switch and that no new hardware is needed to correct it.

"We truly view this as a nonissue," Chapman said. "The issue was found in normal testing of the product, and I'm glad it was found prior to a major release of [Windows XP]."

Cisco, Microsoft, and Xerox all worked together to solve the problem, according to a Microsoft spokesman. "Really, this is what the beta process is all about," he said. "This [kind of problem] crops up, and so we go to fix it."

The Microsoft spokesman said his company issued a temporary work-around for beta testers and is "evaluating whether there is a way to put something in the final product" to prevent the Catalyst 5000 problem.

"In a beta, you're always going to have these sorts of problems," said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner in Stamford, Conn. "People put it on machines, on production networks, and they don't realize it could cause problems like this."

The commercial version of Windows XP is due to ship in the second half of the year.

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