Should You Put Windows XP SP2 Deployment on Autopilot?

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-08-12 Print this article Print

Opinion: Microsoft has recommended that most users acquire SP2 via the Automatic Updates feature and has provided tools for corporations to do this. Is it a good idea?

Ive seen reports of people who are shocked! Shocked to hear that there are applications and network configurations that fail to function under Windows XP Service Pack 2. After years of complaining about security problems in Windows, Microsoft finally does the right thing and plugs many of the holes even at the cost of breaking functionality of software.
I, for one, am not shocked to see them criticized for doing just that. Of course, its almost the point of XP SP2 that it breaks these configurations. We shouldnt be surprised to find issues with Service Pack 2. We shouldnt take too much time in adopting SP2. But we should test it.

If youre responsible for a large number of Windows XP systems and you dont have an explicit test network, you should already have designated a small sample of typical systems as guinea pigs for the release candidates, and therefore the changes in the program should be no surprise to you. Move on to the release code on these systems for final testing and then to a staged deployment.

Its entirely possible that youll find issues in testing. They may not be big problems; the firewall may be blocking a port you use and you might just open it. In other cases you might take the opportunity to rethink an application. Ive seen one program (DivX video) that breaks on SP2 on systems with support for SP2s Data Execution Protection, the ability to detect buffer overflows. Their solution? Turn off the protection, at least for their programs. Does this seem worth it to you? In fact, this is the perfect example of the kind of program that will have to change.

Next Page: Why not use Automatic Updates?

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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