By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2004-08-23 Print this article Print

Two and a half years after the initial release of Windows XP, Microsoft Corp.s Service Pack 2 advances the state of Windows security: The update plugs long-standing vulnerabilities in Windows services and modifies key applications, such as its Internet Explorer and the system firewall, to make it easier for users and administrators to monitor and control whats happening on Windows XP machines.

With the appropriate amount of testing before deployment to production systems—to identify and work around potential application compatibility issues—eWEEK Labs believes the improvements in SP2 are compelling enough to recommend the upgrade for all Windows XP systems.

That said, work remains to be done on Windows security. Wed like to see Microsoft improve the operating systems user permission controls—its still a hassle to run applications as a regular user without administrative privileges. Also, although Windows Update Version 5, the release of which coincides with SP2, has undergone some nice improvements, wed like to see a unified packaging and software update system on par with the Debian Linux distributions Advanced Package Tool.

Weve been testing SP2 throughout its beta cycle and have found it relatively free of problems. Most of the products with which we tested SP2 had updates available. This is likely due in large part to SP2s long and very public beta program.

Click here to see an SP2 slideshow. Of course, in the nearly 300MB across which this service pack stretches, theres plenty of potential for application breakage, particularly with networked and Web-based applications that companies have developed in-house. It will be important for companies to test SP2 in their environment before fully deploying the update.

In fact, SP2 brings to light applications developed with lax security. SP2 enforces tighter adherence to the security models within Windows than did the gold or SP1 releases of XP, so a good deal of the breakage we saw resulted from products that werent developed securely in the first place.

SP2 is available for download for multiple-computer installation at Microsofts Web site; individual users can upgrade to SP2 via Automatic Updates.

For more on deploying the service pack, click here. Microsoft has produced excellent SP2 documentation, and an in-depth overview of what has changed in SP2 is available at

Users wont notice many changes in XP once SP2 is installed, so the update shouldnt require retraining beyond a brief period of familiarization.

Next page: Internet Explorer.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at

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