Windows XP Service Pack 2: Is It Time Yet? - InformationWeek

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10/19/2004
04:29 PM
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Windows XP Service Pack 2: Is It Time Yet?

A Desktop Pipeline reviewer invites readers to step into the SP2 waters, and offers some suggestions on how to do it as safely as possible.

The Bottom Line
Despite all of the above -- and despite numerous reports posted on beta sites, forums, and newsgroups about dire or just messy problems with XP SP2 -- I believe that the time has come for at least some people to install it. I've been through many service packs and Windows updates and similar changes with several other operating systems over the last 25 years. Sixty days later, it doesn't look to me like Windows XP Service Pack 2 will stand out as one of the more problematic Windows upgrades. That said, here are my specific recommendations:

1. Any IT person reading this who is responsible for rolling out XP SP2 on multiple seats, test the heck out of this upgrade before you do so. In particular, test it with unique, low-cost, regional, or outdated hardware that you may be using. Hardware support is changed with Windows XP Service Pack 2 -- probably almost as much as with your average major point release of Windows, judging from the mail I've been getting lately. That's been a little surprising to me. But application issues are the ones that are even harder to fix. Do your homework by checking the functionality of all your apps first. Be sure. If your environment is secure and you encounter app and/or hardware problems, the benefits of XP SP2 probably do not outweigh the disadvantages. I'm not saying never install it. I think everyone should eventually install this release. But business environments are probably the riskiest ones for XP SP2. Hang back until additional problems are worked out, newer drivers are available, and application patches become available.

2. Individual users who are experienced, if you have not already installed this service pack -- and especially those who stay on top of issues with your computers -- the time has come to consider installing it. The vast majority of people have encountered no serious issues with SP2. Remember, people who have no problems don't post in newsgroups, etc. It's just another day for them. And this phenomenon, that negative experiences are magnified, skews our sense of the real-world experience toward the negative. Be careful not to get sucked all the way into the buzz; it's not statistically representative.

For most people, the negative results, if any, are a bevy of small annoyances (most of which are not universal at all). It's just not enough to keep you from exploring SP2. The update is also fully uninstallable, and the Uninstall seems to work pretty well (although it does leave Internet Connection Firewall turned on). If possible, install it on a machine other than your main machine first to see how it goes. But I don't think you should hang back any longer just because of potential major universal problems. After 60 days, the threat of that is less apparent.

There's one caveat to my recommendation to go ahead and install: If you are fully protected with a software firewall, an up-to-date always-running antivirus program that scans your email at least inbound, and you have installed all critical security updates (other than SP2) for Windows XP, there's also no wild rush to install SP2. There are numerous vulnerabilities that Microsoft has plugged in XP SP2, but the majority of those have been previously released. If you have a solid understanding of the Internet and the threats it poses, delaying your installation of SP2 for a while longer is not the end of the world at all. If you don't feel like dealing with a potential hassle, hang back. Every day that goes by, Microsoft and OEM PC makers are learning more and more about the issues that some people have with XP SP2. And they're working on solutions for them. A few months down the line, many problems that some people are having now will be avoided by subsequent patches and workarounds. So long as your security is sound and you're savvy about Internet threats, do not feel compelled to install this update right away.

3. Relatively inexperienced users or those who are not very confident about their ability to extricate themselves from computer problems, you represent the toughest choice. This user group, which is by far and away the largest group of Windows users, stands to gain the most from Windows XP Service Pack 2. I can't promise you an easy installation experience of Windows XP Service Pack 2. I can tell you that the majority of people have literally no problem whatsoever. It's been estimated that only 10 percent of people who install this upgrade experience a serious problem. My data shows the success rate might even be slightly higher than that.

So, it's my considered opinion that for you, the overall threats from the Internet and how you might interact with it outweigh the potential trouble you might encounter during or after installation of Windows XP Service Pack 2.

There is one thing you can do to help yourself: Bone up on XP SP2 before you install. Start by consulting these documents and review the rest of the documents on this page as well. Arm yourself with information. Plus, review the following pre-installation tips.

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