Customers to Preview Windows XP SP2 Beta

To encourage broad consumer testing and forestall incidents of "broken" applications due to the bevy of changes integrated in the update, Microsoft is launching a Windows XP Service Pack 2 technical preview program.

Under the preview, Windows XP SP2 Release Candidate 1 will be made available to customers through a new TechNet portal beginning Friday, March 19.

In response to widespread criticism of what some have alleged is a lax security model, the release candidate implements far reaching changes to lock down the three-year-old operating system.

To this end, Microsoft has prepped a new version of Internet Explorer, complete with a pop-up blocker and download manager; revamped memory protection to prevent buffer overruns; e-mail safeguards in Outlook Express; and network protections including a more robust firewall implementation.

Networking is further secured by reduced privileges in system services such as Remote Procedure Call (RPC). Microsoft has also produced a more secure infrastructure for the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) with added granular COM permissions. In addition, the Windows Messenger service is turned off by default, and Windows Media Player 9 has a new set of security settings.

Direct X 9.0b components include fixes to address network firewall issues.

Other updates that are making the cut into the second service pack are a unified wireless local area network (LAN) client, Software Update Services 2.0, and an update to Bluetooth support.

Control over security features is now centralized in the new Windows Security Center. Security Center manages Direct X Controls, checks for the presence of third-party antivirus protection, manages automatic updates, and enables the Windows Firewall. Security Center is based upon feedback Microsoft gained during the PC Satisfaction trial.

The most recent beta release of Windows XP Service Pack 2 has bundled support for the forthcoming "Lonestar" Tablet PC upgrade, and Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition

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