Users want Windows they can see through

It should be possible to write a new operating system for £165m - or at least to debug one. However, that is how much Microsoft...

It should be possible to write a new operating system for £165m - or at least to debug one. However, that is how much Microsoft plans to spend promoting Service Pack 2 for Windows XP.

It will need to be good. SP2 should probably have been published last year, and the latest beta - Release Candidate 2 - was due last month but was only available from last week.

Most software is late, of course, but the delays to SP2 stem from the fact that it will deliver far more than Microsoft planned. The features include the Software Update Services 2.0 client, Windows Media Player 9, Microsoft DirectX 9.0b, plus new Bluetooth and improved Wi-Fi software.

In response to the past year's spate of attacks, SP2 introduces a new firewall and tightens most of XP's standard defaults. It changes the way scripting is used for downloads, and provides a way of managing browser plug-ins (Browser Helper Objects), so it will be much easier to stop malware from being installed.

It gives Outlook Express the sort of security enhancements that have already been added to Outlook 2003. And, like the MSN Explorer browser, it also blocks pop-ups. Better late than never.

Finally, SP2 installs a dashboard where users can see and control the security features in XP. This includes anti-virus software: Microsoft does not provide anti-virus checking at the moment, but third-party software such as AVG can plug in to it.

All these features add up to something like a Windows XP Second Edition, with the advantage that SP2 is free. Yes, it will take time to install. However, it will save a lot more time in the long run by reducing the volume of malware exploits that have to be removed.

The increased security will break some programs and some websites. Since the SP2 beta is a free download, I hope your IT strategy isn't to wait until angry end-users tell you your system is broken.

As you may have read, Microsoft is also producing something code-named XP Reloaded, which is not Windows XP Second Edition. I discussed this with Michael Hartmann, the director in change of the Windows client business group in Europe. He confirmed that Reloaded exists and said, "It is a marketing concept, and a campaign, but not a product."

Microsoft reckons that consumers do not think about features, they think about "scenarios" such as gaming, movie making, communications, productivity and learning.

Many manufacturers target PCs at these markets, and high-end gaming PCs are becoming popular. Windows could be optimised for such scenarios.

How about a lightweight version called "Windows gets out of the way so we can get some work done"?

Jack Schofield is computer editor of the Guardian

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