Get Ready for Windows XP Service Pack 2

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At the beginning of August, Microsoft reported that it would release Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows XP some time in August. So far, the company has made good on that promise for Windows XP Home, but has yet to open the floodgates to downloads for Windows XP Professional. With only eight days left in August as I write this story, it’s getting interesting to see if they can deliver on that promise before the month is out. But since the company is expecting more than 100 million downloads of this software within the first month following its release, I have no trouble understanding why they might want to stagger release dates to help manage server loads.

Why the great interest in Windows XP SP2? In a word: security! Windows XP SP2 includes a built-in advertising pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer, replaces the old Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) with a friendlier and more capable Windows Firewall, and changes the company’s security philosophy from optimistic to pessimistic defaults, so that security settings that can be enabled, turned on or tuned to the more aggressive and protective side (rather than the less aggressive and protective side) are set to protect rather than to expose or endanger users by default.

 

This makes sense for individual or small office users of Windows XP who may want to let Microsoft manage security for them as much as possible, but it creates potential headaches for security professionals and IT administrators who have to worry about what impact a new software release will have on existing IT infrastructures, security policies and settings, and applications (especially custom or vertical apps). That’s why they’ll want to dig into these regularly updated publications from Microsoft to help them prepare for Windows XP testing and deployment:

 

 

  • KB Article 842242 (http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=842242): “Some programs seem to stop working after you install Windows XP Service Pack 2” was originally released on Aug. 17, 2004, but the link should point to the most recent update. As I write this, 45 programs and platforms are mentioned in this article, some security-related. The following Microsoft elements are included in that list: Visual Studio .NET, SQL, SMS 2003 Server, Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) and Microsoft SNA 4.0 SP3.
  • KB Article 884130 (http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=884130): “Programs that may behave differently in Windows XP Service Pack 2,” was originally released on Aug. 19, but the link should point to the most recent update. As I write this, 38 separate programs appear in this article; again, many are security-related.
  • Microsoft offers a slew of TechNet materials called Windows XP Service Pack 2: Resources for IT Professionals (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/winxppro/maintain/winxpsp2.mspx. Here, you’ll find information on how to manage larger-scale downloads and deployments, instructions on how to use System Update Services (SUS) or Systems Management Server (SMS) to deploy SP2, ways to block (and unblock) Windows Update and Automatic Update to manage timing on user installs for SP2 and numerous pointers to related tools, deployment advice, message forums and technical support case studies and scenarios.

 

Though Windows XP SP2 may indeed be the first version of Windows to ship with decent security “out of the box,” it still requires testing, evaluation and planning before wholesale deployments can (or should) occur. Hopefully, you’ll find the preceding resources helpful in getting to the deployment stage.

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