Microsoft Sets SP2 Installation Deadline

The clock is ticking for organizations that chose to delay the deployment of Windows XP Service Pack 2. Come April 12, 2005, a tool that temporarily blocks the delivery of the Service Pack through automatic updating will cease to operate, thus allowing the upgrade to download.

Microsoft supplied the tool to customers in response to a chorus of demand for some additional time to test and validate installations prior to deployment in valuable production environments.

The Service Pack is a significant and far reaching upgrade that modifies core Windows functionality, plugs security holes and introduces brand new features. The upgrade pushed so many changes onto customers that some large organizations, including IBM, issued mandates instructing IT personnel to stall the adoption of the Service Pack until network administrators were certain that mission critical applications were not incompatible with the upgrade.

"In a report Jupiter Research published in April, I predicted that the release of Service Pack 2 would be disruptive for businesses, slowing down Windows XP upgrades through the latter part of 2004 into the first half of 2005--at least a six month impact. I see Microsoft's allowing businesses to delay SP2 updates as indication how disruptive many businesses see the massive update," senior Jupiter analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

During the beta process and upon the software's release, Microsoft Support worked with customers to inform them of known application incompatibilities. The software giant also extended the lifetime of the update blocking utility from 120 days to 240 days to match typical planning and testing schedules.

Some of the Service Pack's functional attributes include a new version of Internet Explorer with a built-in pop-up blocker and download manager; memory protection against buffer overruns; e-mail safeguards in Outlook Express; a stateful inspection firewall; refined permissions in RPC and DCOM; Windows Security Center; and new security settings for Windows Media Player 9.

SP2 also addresses every public security advisory for the operating system up until the time it was released to manufacturing as well as some undocumented security vulnerabilities uncovered during Microsoft's internal code auditing.

"Companies choosing to delay SP2 deployment must mitigate the potential security risks against potential software compatibility problems. Considering that the most visible security changes would benefit consumers, most businesses that are otherwise up to date should be able to manage risk. Of course, the better risk management would be timely transition to SP2," said Jupiter's Wilcox.

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