WinXP SP2 Without Tears

Installing Windows XP Service Pack 2 is more than just a good idea. Learn to successfully install this OS upgrade quickly and easily.
SP2 FAQs and Myths

Q: My customers' computers are running just fine. Why risk crashing them by loading SP2?

Don't you change the oil in your car at regular intervals even though the car is running fine? In the same way, SP2 is all about preventing problems in the future.

Q: I read that Microsoft has a long list of software that does not work after SP2 has been installed.

Microsoft has released a relatively short list of software that may "seem" to stop working after SP2 has been installed. Check this Microsoft list to see if your customers have any of the offending programs installed and, if so, what you can do about it.

Q: How can I tell if SP2 is already installed on a PC?

Click on Start, then Run. Then type SYSDM.CPL and click OK. Another easy way to check is simply look at the boot-up splash screen. Pre-SP2 versions of the OS will display "Windows XP Home" or "Windows XP Professional." But if SP2 is already installed, then the screen will simply say "Windows XP."

Here are the startup splash screens before SP2 installation:

And here's the startup splash-screen after SP2 is installed:

Q: I tried installing SP2 once and had trouble. Why would I want to try again?

While there are exceptions to every rule, in the vast majority of cases, when SP2 does not install properly, it's because the user failed to ensure the PC was free of spyware and viruses beforehand. Try again, but this time take more pre-installation precautions.

Q: I've heard that installing SP2 from a CD will increase the odds of a successful installation, compared with receiving it automatically from Windows Update. Is this true?

No, this is false. SP2 is the same service pack, regardless of the package it arrives in.

Q: Is it true Microsoft will mail a SP2 update CD to me for free?

Yes! Microsoft will even absorb the cost of shipping, packing and handling. It is truly free. You can save time and bandwidth (especially over a dial-up modem) by installing SP2 locally. To order a free SP2 CD, visit this Microsoft page.

Q: Can I download SP2 in its entirety to create my own CD?

Yes. But because SP2 takes up 260 MB, this might take a while. If you prefer this option, download the SP2 installation package from this Microsoft page.

Q: Why is SP2 so big?

Because it is cumulative. SP2 contains every update ever released for Windows XP up to the point of its creation. For example, SP1 is no longer available from Microsoft because it is already contained within SP2.

Q: Should I make sure a PC is current with all other Windows updates before attempting to install SP2?

No, this is unnecessary. All previous updates are already included within SP2.

Q: SP2 reports an invalid product key on my customers XP installation and refuses to install. What is the next step I should take?

Please see this Microsoft Knowledgebase Article which answers this question in detail.

Q: My customer's PC is really old. Should I still install SP2?

Yes, assuming the computer runs Windows XP and has at least 1.1 GB of free space on the hard disk drive.

Q: I install SP2 regularly for all of my customers without any problems. Why all the hubbub?

Your guess is as good as mine!

Q: Following the advice of this article, I installed SP2, and my customer is now experiencing computer problems. Should I remove SP2?

No, do not uninstall SP2. Microsoft is currently offering free telephone, online and e-mail support for any SP2 issues. For more details, visit this Microsoft XP support page, and click the "Contact a support professional..." link in the top right corner of the screen.

Carey Holzman is a freelance writer, an instructor at Glendale Community College, a co-host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show Computer America, the owner of a computer-repair business, and the author of The Healthy PC. He enjoys sleeping in his free time.

Editor's Choice
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Terry White, Associate Chief Analyst, Omdia
John Abel, Technical Director, Google Cloud
Richard Pallardy, Freelance Writer
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer