Microsoft delays SP2, woos partners
The company is in Toronto whispering sweet nothings into developers' ears, but consumers waiting for security updates got bad news.
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Your Next Gen OS, Code Named Longhorn

 
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Our Review of Windows XP's Service Pack 2 
for a single user not networked

If you are networked, Intranet or LAN, then it might be a good idea to hold off updating for another couple of weeks. SP2 should be ready for you by the end of September or the first of October 2004.

To install WXPSP2, take a deep breath, plan to spend some time with your family while the download is taking place (It's anywhere from 75 to 250 megabytes and over a dial up, well, it will take awhile), and make sure you back up your important data. No, really, just do it.

After the install we did find that the only real problem was with our Norton Security 2004 program on our test machine and Norton Antivirus Professional 2003 on our working machine. Okay, we do play about four hours continuous of Command and Conquer General's Zero hour, but hey, that is work too right?

Antivirus Software:
The new security center showed that all was well accept that Windows could figure out that we had Norton installed, but couldn't tell if it was up to date or even working. Fortunately you can disable that feature and tell Windows that you will monitor the Antivirus program yourself. We did not test it with McAfee or any other AV software. Symantec should be coming out with an update in a few weeks or months.

The Firewall:
Some have said that the new Security Firewall, which is now enabled as default and starts the moment that Windows starts thus insuring that you are protected right from the get go, doesn't play well with other third party firewalls. Our tests for both Zone Alarm Pro. by Zone Labs, and Norton Security Firewall worked without a hitch and we now have three firewalls set in place. My inclination is that one can never have to many firewalls between you and a potential hacker..

Having the firewall start when Windows does may not seem like a big deal unless you have a Dedicated T-1 line, Cable, or DSL. In which case it is very important as neither Norton Firewall nor Zone Alarm start before the GUI. It only takes a few seconds, if that long, for a hacker's spider program to probe your ports and discover that you might be vulnerable.

An Update to the Windows Firewall: Dump It.

Improved Automatic Updates:
Windows with SP2 now has a newer design for the automatic updates for the OS. Microsoft, in a nod nod, wink wink, to the dialup community will now only download newer versions of files rather than an entire program. This will insure that download times are drastically gong to be cut. Microsoft says that it has cut download times by as much as 80%.

We did notice that the option for updating driver's no longer appear at the update center. This was a bit troubling but we did discover that the updates of driver's is now handled through the Device manager. Here is how this works:

  1. Press the Windows Key + Pause/Break to bring up the system properties sheet
  2. Click on the Hardware tab
  3. Click the Device Manager button
  4. Find the device that you want to search for updates and open the tree by clicking on the + symbol
  5. Locate the device under the category tree that you want to search for an update and double click on it to bring up it's property sheet
  6. Switch to the Driver tab
  7. Connect to the internet if you have dialup.
  8. Click on the Update Driver button
  9. IN the resultant dialog make your preference as to rather XP should just check this once or continue to check for updates whenever your online or click never to just see if there is a driver available. Personally, we prefer to control this ourselves rather than let Windows do it for us as we have found, on some driver updates that the device worked better with the older driver. Of course, this is entirely up to you and if checking for driver updates is a big ole pain in the set down place, then you may want to allow Windows to automate the process for you. If you get a device that suddenly doesn't seem to work as it once did, just come back to the Device manager under the driver tab and click the Roll back button to install the former driver for that device.
  10. Click next
  11. Here you can choose to have Windows install the new driver automatically, which I recommend as Windows seems to be pretty good at picking the right driver for the required device. Or, choose let me pick from a list if you want to make a selection yourself.
  12. Click next
  13. Windows will now search the Microsoft website and your hard drive and installed media devices to find an update to the driver you want to install. If it finds one, and you have selected automatic, the device driver update is installed from the internet or from the location from which the driver update was found.
  14. Once the search is complete you will be advised that either the driver has been installed or that Windows could not find a newer driver and asks if you want to search further. In most cases, you would simply click finished to keep the current driver

It may sound complicated, but it really is pretty much a straight forward deal and only the really computer phobic will have serious problems with the procedure.

Windows, Heal Thy Self:
Another item which we discovered is that Windows XP SP2 is now pretty much self aware and self healing. 

We had some programs which didn't seem to work just right after the first reboot. Also the typical Windows settings were off a bit. If you experience some problems after the install and initial reboot, which Windows is going to insist on by the way, then reboot the system a couple more times. Windows should detect a problem and attempt to repair it. After a couple of reboots if the program or device still isn't working, reboot a couple more times. As for hardware that may not work correctly after the install, follow the above steps to find updated drivers. In most of our tests, the system came back on line even from the most horrific malfunction; unlike Janet Jackson's costume malfunction at the last Super Bowl, which personally, I kinda liked. Yeah, men are pigs.

This is a feature that most Windows users have been hoping for from day one and is a bid, though we have not confirmed this, by Microsoft to get a leg up on IBM's self healing server software.

Our Conclusion:
We have been living with SP2 now for about four days with a pair of very active computer's of very different configurations. I am happy to say, at least at this time, that Windows is working even better than it did before the update. While it is true that not everyone's experience is going to be as good as ours, we feel, given the security craze of late, that Windows XP Service Pack 2 is a worthwhile update and we cannot see any reason why any further delay by Microsoft customer's, to install this update should give them cause for any concern. That being said, there are some very simple precautions that people should take whenever installing anything onto their systems. Please go back to our Windows XP, What you should Know page to review a list of precautions to take.

Be sure to see a more in depth study of what is in WXPSP2 here.
Be sure to see: Microsoft has compiled a list of incompatible applications that are "broken" by Windows XP Service Pack 2. SP2 was released to manufacturing on August 6.

Armed with this information you should minimize your risk of a potential disaster. If WXPSP2 doesn't work for you it can be uninstalled and it does set a restore point for you before it installs itself. The risk is minimal where Microsoft's Patch as Patch Can philosophy is concerned and in truth, this is much more than a mere patch, it is a very sizable upgrade not unlike going from Windows Millennium to Windows XP. Of course, the update is cumulative so it will also install the components for Service Pack 1 as well.

For more information, please see these Tech Republic articles:

Changes and enhancements to Windows XP Support Tools under SP2
Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 attempts to fix a multitude of bugs and security holes. Such a pervasive change to an operating system will likely create at least a few problems. That is why Microsoft supplies several helpful support tools, many of which are updated for the pack release.

Windows XP Service Pack 2: How it affects Internet Explorer
For the most part, the Windows XP SP2 buzz has centered on security enhancements, but there are some less publicized changes to be aware of as well. For example, SP2 brings several key changes to IE--including a built-in pop-up blocker and Add-on Manager.

Best advise? Take a deep breath, count to 100, even if you have to take off your shoes to do it, and grab a copy for yourself. You can also order a CD if the download time seems to dauntin

An Update to the Windows Firewall: Dump It.

Microsoft's latest XP service pack isn't perfect. It's missing many key features, such as utilities to protect against and remove malware. And some of its features including XP's defensive program that was recently renamed the Windows Firewall are woefully inadequate.

The problems with Windows Firewall, as they say, are legion.

First, it only monitors inbound network traffic, ignoring malware that might already be installed on your system and communicating with Internet servers.

Second, Windows Firewall inherently trusts the local network subnet, leading to the possibility that nearby computers could be used to launch deliberate or "zombie" attacks on your system.

And third, while it's possible to run Windows Firewall at the same time as a more capable personal firewall product, such as ZoneAlarm, doing so can be needless confusing and could potentially lead to problems.

We recommend, therefore, that you turn off SP2's Windows Firewall and immediately replace it with ZoneAlarm or another personal firewall of your own choice.

Fortunately, replacing Windows Firewall isn't hard. In addition, any up-to-date personal firewall that you choose to install will integrate well with XP's new Security Center, the security dashboard that debuted in SP2

Personal firewalls are the subject of numerous reviews available on the Web:

The Home PC Firewall Guide provides a handy reference to
reviews of personal firewalls. (The guide recommends ZoneAlarm and Symantec's Norton Personal Firewall.) Even better, the guide even ranks for you which other sites' reviews are best.

PC World's June 2004 issue reviewed numerous security tools, including firewalls. (They gave ZoneAlarm Pro and Trend Micro's PC-cillin Internet Security 2004 their "Best Buy" rating.)

Once you have a personal firewall, installing and configuring it so it can do the job the Windows Firewall was supposed to do is key.

A big part of this involves telling the firewall which applications are allowed to access network resources. When you install a firewall like ZoneAlarm, for example, you'll notice that certain applications, like instant messaging (IM) and e-mail packages, will stop working until they are explicitly allowed to access the Internet.

After you've answered the firewall's questions about these common programs, run a few typical Internet-related applications like Internet Explorer, Firefox, or MSN Messenger. Typically, personal firewalls will block many of these applications from accessing the Net until you've explicitly allowed them.

Only after you're sure that the new personal firewall is up and running is it time to shut down Windows Firewall. (Note, however, that some newer personal firewalls, including ZoneAlarm 5.1, will automatically turn off Windows Firewall when installed and re-enable it if they're uninstalled).

If you need to shut down Windows Firewall manually, first navigate to the Security Center. To do this, click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools. Then expand the Firewall section.

Security Center detail If you've installed a newer firewall, you should see a message such as, "ZoneAlarm Firewall is currently ON." This indicates that the new firewall, and not Windows Firewall, is protecting your system. A detail from the Security Center is shown at left

To ensure that this is the case, launch the Windows Firewall configuration utility by clicking on the Windows Firewall link in the Security Center. Windows Firewall should be shown as "off."

If you see a different message, you'll need to turn off Windows Firewall manually. To do so, simply click "Off" in the Windows Firewall configuration utility, then click OK to close the dialog box.

Newer personal firewalls won't trigger a Security Center warning when you do this. If you see a yellow balloon Help window warning you of potential problems, however, you'll need to also configure Security Center to stop monitoring the firewall.

To do this, click the Recommendations button in the Firewall section of Security Center. Then turn on the option labeled "I have a firewall solution that I'll monitor myself" in the Recommendation dialog. Finally, click OK.

Not running Windows XP? Then it's even more important for you to install a personal firewall to help protect your system against electronic attack. The links shown above to the Home PC Firewall Guide and PC World are as helpful to users of Windows 9x/Me and 2000 as they are to users of XP.