Boo Hoo Hoo for Victims of XP SP2

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-07-19 Print this article Print

Opinion: Quite a few applications will break under the new security-focused service pack. Many shouldn't have been written that way, and developers have had plenty of warning that things would change.

If youve ever wondered why major software releases such as new operating systems take so long, one of the biggest contributing factors is backward compatibility. Microsoft is especially sensitive to this, and especially with its largest customers. It works very hard not to break old applications. But with Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), expected to be finalized in the next month, the standard has changed somewhat. The big point about XP SP2 is security, and toward that end, application compatibility must suffer. Some ISVs and other developers are mad. Others not only arent mad, they see it as a good sign.

Russ Cooper, senior scientist at TruSecure and moderator of the respected NTBugTraq Security mailing list, goes so far as to say, "I hope it breaks more things than its already broken."

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
If you look carefully at Microsofts guide to Windows XP SP2 for developers, you can see that the things it bans are generally things developers shouldnt be doing anyway, such as automated download prompts and files with extensions that dont match their content-type value. This is the point that Cooper is making.

Many vendors have already slipstreamed in upgrades to applications to comply with SP2. According to testers in Microsofts Application Compatibility Support newsgroup, for example, Symantec PCAnywhere works from version 10.5.1 up, including the 11.x versions. Problems in the debugger in Borlands Delphi in Release Candidate 1 were fixed quickly, although another tester reports that multiple applications under SP2 cannot access the Borland Database Engine.

And like all bug databases, problem reports on XP SP2 have a large share of inaccuracy and overstatement. There were, for example, reports that Apples iTunes for Windows 4.6 worked if present on a system onto which SP2 was installed, but would not install afresh on an SP2 system. I tested this myself and had no trouble installing it on an SP2 system. Its entirely possible that iTunes does fail on some SP2 systems, or perhaps the problems observed had nothing to do with SP2. Well know a lot more after the service pack goes final.

And some ISVs are publicly complaining about the problems. RealNetworks, for example, says, "The changes Microsoft is proposing for SP2 will have serious negative consequences on the consumer experience of many applications and Web sites." Of course, its not surprising to hear Real complain about Microsoft, nor is it always a meaningful or accurate complaint.

Next page: The real problems.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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