SP2 sticks spanner in software works

There can be no doubting that SP2, the latest update to Windows XP, will make toast of some applications.

There can be no doubting that SP2, the latest update to Windows XP, will make toast of some applications.   

But it's early days for SP2, which adds features, mostly concerning security, as well as fixes to the ageing OS. Given the size and complexity of the update, it should come as no surprise that few network managers have installed the release version yet, and even fewer have deployed it for real in a production environment of any size.

Microsoft has urged developers and IT professionals to test the update thoroughly. But that's easier said than done, according to Bill Lewkowski, chief information officer at Metropolitan Health. "Microsoft doesn't quite understand how difficult this is to do," he said.

Lewkowski's 1,300 users recently migrated to Windows XP with SP1. "We can't do unplanned, unbudgeted service pack releases that are very similar to putting in a whole new version of an operating system," he said. 

Randy Truax, technical services manager at Metropolitan Health, agreed. "I almost prefer just fixes, because if they start putting in new functionality that developers have to test their code against, it adds a lot of complexity for us."

IBM has also instructed its users not to install SP2 yet. 

The biggest concen of those few users who have so far installed SP2 is the new security features - hardly surprising given that this is the main impetus behind the service pack. 

Among the most obvious changes is the built-in firewall. Now on by default, it's likely to break applications if they use unusual IP ports to access applications. The firewall is also activated much earlier in the boot cycle than before and remains on until after the IP stack is disabled, which may cause problems for machines that need to access network resources. 

Tests suggest there are some unusual and as yet unexplained features in SP2. For example, one test centre reportedly found the pack caused BSDs - blue screens of death. Using Microsoft's own suggested procedure to roll back to a pre-installation environment also uninstalled SP1 as well as every device that existed in the PC - network cards, video cards and all system resources. 

The test centre suggested SP2 would probably break many security utilities such as antivirus programs, firewalls and pop-up blockers. Utility supplier Symantec has said it supports SP2 but will also be releasing a product update to enable its utilities to communicate their status to the Windows Security Center utility.

Manek Dubash writes for Techworld

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