Windows XP Service Pack 2

If you paid attention to the news at the beginning of the month, you might have heard a reference to the impending release of Windows XP Service Pack 2. If you didn't, and you're running Windows XP, it's something you should really know about.

Windows XP has had its fair share of security problems. Mostly related to Internet Explorer (see our previous stories on Firefox vs IE) bugs and a couple of other nasties (remember the Blaster worm?), Windows XP has been patched and patched and patched since it was released a few years ago.

These patches are generally short term fixes, designed to fix a specific hole. Sometimes, they've been known to open other holes in the process. The solution to this problem is to have a bunch of programmers work really hard on a big release, called a Service Pack, which combines a wide range of fixes with some new features in a single install.

While Service Packs are nothing new, this Service Pack is a pretty big deal for a few reasons. Firstly, it's quite large - well over 100MB for most users. Secondly, it takes a hard line on security - possibly the first time Microsoft has done this - so this install will make it's presence felt on your machine.

Service Pack 2 is a large download for most users, which will take over 10 hours to download on a modem. After the initial hype about SP2 being released earlier this month, I was very surprised to find I couldn't actually download the upgrade. After heading back to www.windowsupdate.com yesterday, I was able to install the update fairly quickly and painlessly.

If you're not on broadband, you'll probably want to take advantage of Microsoft's CD Ordering service. If you've got a number of machines to install onto, we recommend downloading the Service Pack once from Download.com, but be warned - at 266MB the download.com version would appear to be a "one size fits all" approach compared to www.windowsupdate.com which required a download about half the size for my machine.

While you're downloading, have a read through the configuration tips at PC Magazine's website, where they cover Service Pack 2 in some detail:
www.pcmag.com.

As with all major system upgrades, backing up your data in the case of failure or problem is highly recommended, and while the installation process tries to do this for you, you shouldn't rely on it. Additionally, this service pack - and the security features that it includes - are quite significant, and it has been known to "break" a number of Microsoft's own applications, so it's very important to check with the staff who look after your network and systems if you are running anything specialized.

Unfortunately, almost as soon as Service Pack was released, a bug was found that needed patching. While I'm confident they'll fix things quickly, it's another important reminder of why turning on Automatic Updates is highly recommended.

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