Affecting all the XP users who have been avoiding or procrastinating about installing the Windows XP Service Pack 2 upgrade, Microsoft is about to make the decision for them.
On April 12, Microsoft Corp. is scheduled to turn on its Automatic Update service, which will deploy the XP Service Pack 2 to all PCs connected to the Internet regardless of whether corporate IT departments or individual PC users have prepared for it.
SP2, developed to fix critical security holes and deploy performance enhancements, was originally released in September 2004. But in response to customer complaints, Microsoft suspended the automatic deployment for eight months to give users time to prepare for the upgrade.
With the upgrade deadline looming, one study shows that the vast majority of companies running XP have actively avoided the upgrade or simply ignored the problem.
The study, by AssetMetrix Research Labs of Ottawa, Canada, showed that only 24 percent of Windows XP PCs have been upgraded to SP2.
"This whole thing reminds of those days back in college when you asked for a two-week extension on the due date for a midterm paper," said Steve OHalloran, managing director of AssetMetrix Research Labs. "But the weekend before the paper is finally due, you still havent done any work," he said.
The AssetMetrix study of 136,000 PCs at 251 North American corporations showed that only 7 percent of the companies studied have actively accepted and deployed the upgrade.
Of the remainder, 52 percent hadnt established any policy or plans for the SP2 upgrade, and 40 percent were actively avoiding it.
The results were surprising, OHalloran said, because the study managers expected that companies would adopt more decisive policies to either upgrade to XP2 or to hold off until they were better prepared to deploy it.
"Instead we found many, many customers with a mixed mode of XP Service Pack 1, XP SP 2 and even the original edition of XP," he said.
The study didnt closely examine the reason why companies werent upgrading, OHalloran said. But the study indicates that many organizations are ignoring security threats or future application compatibility issues if they decide not to deploy Service Pack 2, he said.
To help large enterprise customers with the SP2 upgrade process, Microsoft updated its Application Compatibility Toolkit in March.
The toolkit includes three security-focused evaluation tools to help customers identify the common issues caused by SP2s increased security settings.
Preparation is the key when deploying SP2 in a corporate environment, according to IT managers at two different organizations.
Both managers reported that they experienced few problems when they ran the upgrade. But both were careful to perform test installations before widely deploying the updates.
"We deployed SP2 right away, so it was a high priority, said Frans Keylard, an IT administrator with Northwest Head and Neck Surgery, Renton, Wash.
"SP2 didnt break any applications, but then again, we are behind a very hard firewall that is outside our control" because it is maintained by the hospitals IT department, Keylard said.