Users are being advised to delay roll-outs of Windows XP Service Pack 2 to allow time to test application incompatibility, despite Microsoft’s insistence that the upgrade is essential.
Within the next fortnight Microsoft users will receive SP2, which tightens security in the Windows XP desktop operating system. It is widely regarded as the most significant update since Microsoft launched its Trustworthy Computing campaign to improve the security of its product.
IT user groups welcomed the improved security in SP2 but warned that installing the upgrade without prior testing could cause widespread disruption to companies.
The main issue users face is that the sheer complexity of SP2 will mean it requires lengthy testing. Analyst firm Gartner has estimated that a large company would have to test 1,000 IT systems as part of an upgrade to SP2.
John Pescatore, vice-president of internet security at Gartner, estimated that a business with 100,000 staff would have 1,000 unique applications to test. "This will require several man-months of testing," he said.
David Roberts, chairman of user group the Corporate IT Forum, said Windows XP SP2 was the first attempt by Microsoft to address the security problems that have plagued its software. He said he was encouraged by the release of SP2 but warned users, "Precede with caution because SP2 is not a simple update."
Owen Williams, head of IT at property company Knight Frank, said his company was planning to upgrade to SP2. "We need to do something about testing [the impact of SP2] pretty soon, and we are working out what we need to test, how long it will take and who is going to do it," he said.
Colin Butcher, a board member of the HP User Group, said SP2 posed a number of support issues for users. "What will it break? Will it be reliable? Can you upgrade and get a stable platform, or will we need to rebuild systems from scratch?" he said.
Neil Macehiter, research director at analyst firm Ovum, warned users that they should treat the SP2 upgrade as if they were upgrading to a new version of the Microsoft operating system.
IBM, which has 400,000 desktops internally, posted an internal memo to its employees earlier this month warning them not to install the Windows XP SP2 software, but to wait for a customised version.
Paul Randle, Microsoft’s Windows product manager, said, "We encourage all our customers to move to Windows XP with the introduction of SP2. Eighty per cent of the work has been around raising the level of security."