Republicans, who take joy in pointing out the policy flip-flops of
presidential candidate John Kerry --- perceived or real --- must be
having a field day with Microsoft.
As I sit here and write, I've just learned that the Big M has taken an
enormous U-turn, deciding to withhold Service Pack 2 for Windows XP from
general release, allowing corporations a chance to test it. Released to
manufacturing on Aug. 6 with great fanfare (read the press release:
SP2 was to have become available for automatic downloading to everyone
on Aug. 16. Now, the earliest date is Aug. 25. Companies that use
Microsoft's patch-management service did receive SP2, but can elect to
hold up distribution.
All of this applies only to XP Professional Edition. Systems running XP
Home Edition and which are configured for automatic updates will still
get SP2 beginning on Aug. 18.
As for our rather modest network, I opted to go ahead, downloading SP2
using my Microsoft Developer's Network subscription. When you download
from MSDN, you get an .iso file, an image of a CD-ROM's entire contents.
Similar to a ZIP file, the contents of the .iso file are extracted then
burned to the CD.
My report is pretty simple: it all worked flawlessly --- and quickly.
The entire process on a PC workstation, including system integrity
check, hunt for adequate available resources, archiving the old
environment, and actual installation of the new files took about 15
minutes, requiring just one reboot at the end. Afterwards, all of our
software worked just fine. Naturally, I did a full backup before
embarking on this potentially dangerous journey, but I never needed to
That isn't to say that SP2 is perfect. Already, a hot-fix has been
issued to address error messages that pop-up when programs attempt to
connect to loopback addresses other than 127.0.0.1. But hey, software is
never really finished, is it?
That's not all. The company issued a statement saying "After you install
Windows XP SP2, client applications may not successfully receive data
from a server." No problem there, right? You can find out more about
that showstopper at
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=842242. The problem is
that with Windows Firewall enabled by default, unsolicited connections
to the computer are blocked.
Plenty of commercial products don't much care for SP2. These include
various versions of AutoCAD, BMC Patrol for Windows 2000, ARCserve,
ColdFusion MX Server, Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition, Backup Exec,
and more. Indeed, even Microsoft's own Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA)
requires an update to version 1.2.1, due in late August, from the
current version 1.2. Visual Studio .NET will have problems with remote
DCOM debugging and Microsoft SMS 2003 Server will have trouble with the
Windows XP SP2 Client Event Viewer.
And what about the zillions of internally developed specialty
applications in current production around the world? There's plenty that
could get broken, so they all need testing. If one of those applications
is regulating your insulin drip, delaying deployment of SP2 would
probably be a prudent decision. A bunch of games have known problems,
too, but you'll have to research that on your own. After all, this is
Solutions Integrator, not Games Integrator.
But wait, there's more. The German firm Heise Security is reporting that
it has already discovered two flaws in SP2, specifically in a new
security feature that warns users before executing files that originate
from an untrusted location (zone) such as the Internet. Hopefully, these
guys will have a hand in the development of SP3. (Read Heise's report at
Required reading: You'll find the release notes for SP2 at
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;835935. Plan to
spend time with the wealth of information contained here.
Finally, if you haven't gotten your hands on SP2 and must have it right
now, this is the place to go:
Should you allow your customers to install SP2? You don't really need me
to answer that, do you?