Microsoft wraps up Service Pack 2, firms express concerns about compatibility

Redmond (WA) - Microsoft finished work on Service Pack 2 (SP2) and released the software to manufacturing. The massive download of the update will become available over the next months, depending on language. Prior to availability, companies already have begun to advise employees not to install the software.

After a series of delays, Microsoft closed the development and testing process of what is considered the most critical update for its Windows XP operating system. SP2 will require an additional 495 MByte space on the harddrive and bring a total of Among others, the new features of SP2 cover the categories network and memory protection, computer maintenance, Internet Explorer updates, as well as E-Mail handling functions.

Especially new protection features for the network and memory are supposed to significantly decrease the threat of viruses and malicious code. Enhancements to the Windows firewall reduce the attack surface of a PC, No-Execution (NX) support, to which Microsoft refers as "memory protection", enables features included for example in AMD’s Opteron and Athlon 64 processors, to prevent buffer overruns, a common security threat for PCs. For email security, Microsoft made changes to the plain text control to avoid vulnerability by the MSHTML control.

Microsoft has published a complete list of new features .

"Service Pack 2 is a significant step in delivering on our goal to help customers make their PCs better isolated and more resilient in the face of increasingly sophisticated attacks," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft in a prepared statement. "It is the result of sustained investments in innovation and extensive industry collaboration. It also reflects a broad recognition that as the security environment changes, the industry needs to work together to respond."

Microsoft expects that more than 100 million PCs will be equipped with the update within the next two months. The software will be available first in English with 25 localized versions on the way over a period of months. Single localized versions already were spotted on the Internet. German site offered a 260 MByte download of SP2 German, but removed the download on Monday afternoon local time. Microsoft will offer the download through the automated update feature in Windows XP and free CDs which can be ordered on the firm’s website.

Despite Microsoft’s enthusiasm for its most recent OS update, several US corporations seem to be less excited about what the software will bring. An analyst as well as industry sources told Tom’s Hardware Guide that IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP) advised its employees to install the update not yet. While it is common policy in many places to run new software through an extensive internal evaluation process, it appears that at least IBM and Hewlett-Packard might have identified compatibility issues with existing systems and network setup features.

IDG publications obtained a note from the corporate Intranet of IBM which states : "While this patch may be good news for other Microsoft Windows XP owners, IBM is directing XP users not to install SP2." IBM and Microsoft were not available for comment.

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