IBM has ordered its staff not to install Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows XP because of compatibility issues.
"IBM's large number of web applications will need to be tested and some modified to work correctly with SP2," IBM has warned its employees. "Currently, some high-profile, business-critical applications are also known to conflict with SP2. When the current issues and concerns have been addressed, IBM will deploy a customised version of SP2."
With close to 400,000 desktops, IBM is a very large Microsoft customer indeed.
The company warned its users off SP2 on the same day Microsoft released it for manufacturing. The XP update will be available soon through downloads, shops and free CDs, as well as on new PCs. A network installation package will be available for enterprise users.
SP2 for Windows XP is more than the usual roll-up of bug fixes and updates, with Microsoft trading off compatibility for security. As a result, it may not run existing applications and Microsoft has urged developers and IT professionals to test the update.
And IBM isn't the only company with SP2 compatibility issues. Microsoft's own software is also affected. The company has already released an update for its CRM customer relationship management software because it won't run correctly under SP2.
The broad changes to SP2 have led analysts to liken it to a Windows upgrade rather than a simple update. Business users typically take much longer to install a new version of Windows than a service pack because they do compatibility testing first.
Thomas Smith, manager of desktop engineering at a large US company, hopes to equip his 5,000 desktops with a custom version of SP2 before Microsoft pushes it out on Windows Update.
Smith manages desktops scattered throughout the US with common high-speed internet connections such as DSL or cable using Altiris's remote management tool and relying on Windows Update for patches. He said that If he applied the standard SP2 distribution to his machines, it would block access to several corporate web applications.
Microsoft Windows group manager Barry Goffe said Microsoft would help users in Smith's position. The software maker plans to offer simple ways to set a unique registry key on XP desktops that will instruct the systems to skip SP2 but download other critical updates through Windows Update and Automatic Update.
"We want to give customers some breathing room," Goffe said, but added that Microsoft was urging all users to install SP2 as soon possible.
"This is not about fun and games," he said. "SP2 is about improving the security of our customers' infrastructure. We have spent a lot of time making sure that this delivers a lot of value to all our customers."
Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said business users obviously needed to test but could not blame Microsoft for any unpleasant surprises in SP2.
"Microsoft has been more than forthcoming about the number of changes in this service pack and making it available for testing," Cherry said. "IT departments should get their testing done quickly because there are significant improvements in this service pack that I am not sure they would want to forgo."
Joris Evers writes for IDG