Microsoft Moves Closer to Windows XP Service Pack 2

Looking to quell fears of delay and signaling it is in the final stages of its newest upgrade to Windows XP, Microsoft released a new beta version of its Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, a long-awaited security and reliability effort that will probably be released within the next two to three months, according to analysts.

While there have been the usual delays that come with most software releases, Microsoft has encountered some relatively minor issues. At the same time, the company has signaled loudly that despite its thorough testing, there will be impacts from the large update, which adds network protection, memory protection, e-mail handling, enhanced browser security and more to the operating system.

Meta Group vice president Steve Kleynhans told TechNewsWorld that those new security features, while not all enabled initially, are bound to cause some problems.

“Simply because you’re tightening up so much in the operating system that things that got through before likely won’t now,” Kleynhans said. “It’s gone through a lot of testing with a lot of people, but there is a likelihood that something will break. All you can do is test it and if you do have a problem, go back to the vendor and see if there’s a fix.”

SP2 On Track

Microsoft made the second release candidate of the XP service pack available to beta testers, but did not signal a due date for the official, final release of XP SP2. However, industry observers such as Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio, indicated that Microsoft appears to be on track for the release that is now expected this summer.

“They’re close,” DiDio told TechNewsWorld. “They’re on track and the sense behind the scenes is that no major gotchas have cropped up. They’re right where they should be,” she added, referring to a three- to four-month time frame before the official SP2 is released.

Meta Group’s Kleynhans put the release closer to the present, estimating that Microsoft will still probably be able to get the widely anticipated update out before the end of July.

Quelling Fears

DiDio referred to a changed Microsoft that has taken its time, done the appropriate testing and put in the appropriate features to help IT staffers beleaguered by security issues. She said the software giant has been more proactive with listening to the needs of user groups.

DiDio also said Microsoft’s warnings will mean little if SP2 is too disruptive, and indicated that the latest beta version of the sizeable service pack was meant as a reassurance to anxious third-party vendors and users.

“The fact that the candidate is out is meant to allay the fear over when something is officially coming out,” DiDio said.

Compatibility Question

Kleynhans said that with all of its security enhancements and tightening down of the Windows XP operating system, SP2 is bound to have an effect on Windows applications and how they are used.

“I think SP2 is likely going to cause fewer problems of compatibility than a typical upgrade, but probably more than you see with a typical service pack,” Kleynhans said.

The analyst added that the more advanced security features — such as a hardware-based, no-execute mechanism designed to help in the war against viruses and malware — will not be enabled by most machines. But for those machines where it is enabled, the impact of the service pack could be significant.

Update Holdup

Kleynhans said that Microsoft is being particularly cautious about testing SP2 and warning of its impact because, “For better or for worse, there’s been a lot of hype around this service pack.”

Kleynhans also said that other Microsoft products, including a Server 2003 service pack and 64-bit editions of XP, have been held up by the work on SP2.

“These are all waiting on SP2 to be finalized,” Kleynhans said. “Getting SP2 out will I think ease a bit of the logjam and get some of these things out of Microsoft.”

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