With the code for Windows XP Service Pack 2 now ready, users will soon be able to install the operating system update across their desktop infrastructure.
Compatibility with existing software to ensure applications do not fail will be an issue for users testing SP2. Because of enhanced security, certain access to the corporate network may be blocked by the Windows firewall.
Such applications may need to be re-engineered to cope with the higher level of security. Alternatively, system administrators will need to lower the security settings on the firewall to allow the applications to continue communicating across the network.
Even some Microsoft applications have had problems with SP2. Paul Randle, Microsoft’s Windows product manager, said SP2 had compatibility issues with Microsoft CRM 1.2, but that a patch was now available.
Other known problems include Microsoft Systems Management Server Remote Tools not being able to remotely manage clients running SP2; the Systems Management Server Administrator console not being able to access Windows Event Viewer or System Monitor; and the firewall disabling Client Push Installation.
Randle said he was not aware of third-party conflicts, but Internet Explorer and the firewall were responsible for most of the now resolved problems.
Businesses using Windows NT, 95, 98 and 2000 are faced with the decision to upgrade. Randle 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."
Neil Macehiter, research director at analyst firm Ovum, said, "The security enhancements in Windows XP SP2 warrant serious consideration by user organisations. However, I would caution that they should assess the impact of deploying SP2 as they would a major operating system upgrade."
Macehiter recognised that many business users will not upgrade yet. "Microsoft’s support policy is such that it will support older operating systems for significant periods," he said.
Randle added that users of older operating systems will continue to be supported. "We will never walk away from our customers and will continue to issue support and patches," he said.
Users could also wait until Microsoft releases its next major operating system, Longhorn, in 2007. This is a feasible option for Windows 2000 users, as mainstream support ends in June 2005, but users can buy extended support until June 2010.
Annette Jump, principle analyst at Gartner, said, "If we look at the installed base of large or mid-sized organisations, many of them are not on XP. Can companies wait for Longhorn? It depends very much on when Longhorn will ship."
Gartner said firms running XP should fully test SP2 and deploy it, but only after it has been shipping for at least two months.