For many IT administrators, a piece of Microsoft Corp. software—particularly one as central to an enterprise as Windows—isnt ripe for rollout until the first service pack is released. Judging from the number of security and bug fixes addressed in Service Pack 1, it paid to be cautious with Windows XP.
Among the service packs 308 bug updates is a particularly welcome patch to a nasty exploit of XPs Help and Support Center that could be used to deceive a user into deleting system data by entering a specific URL into Internet Explorer. (More information on this exploit and the free download can be accessed at www.eweek.com/links.)
In eWeek Labs tests of Windows XP SP1, which became available last week, we experienced no problems during installation or subsequent use.
However, newsgroup posters have reported a few minor hitches post-upgrade, including trouble switching among Outlook Express profiles. As a workaround, Outlook Express users can deselect their default mail account and instead choose a profile each time Outlook Express is run.
Administrators should carefully test the package with their hardware and software before undertaking the upgrade. Virtually every enterprise site stands to benefit from SP1, but IT departments may need to come up with their own workarounds, depending on their companies computing environments.
Among the most interesting things in SP1 is the addition of the Set Program Access and Defaults utility, which is intended to move Windows XP into compliance with the proposed consent decree that Microsoft signed with the Department of Justice and nine state attorneys general last November. (Windows 2000 SP3 includes a similar feature.)
The utility allows users to select the Web browser, instant messaging, e-mail and Java virtual machine applications they wish. Users can choose from among Microsoft Windows, Non-Microsoft or Custom installations (see screen, Page 9).
However, Microsoft has executed this in a way that preserves its own products position on the path of least resistance: To appear as a custom option, third-party software developers need to modify their application installers using a new set of registry keys, so this Windows component wont be of real use until some time has passed.
In our tests, one exception was Mozilla Mail 1.1, which did show up as a mail client option in the Program Access interface. The Mozilla Web browser, however, didnt appear as an option.
In addition, although this feature can obscure access to certain Microsoft middleware applications, it does not remove them or any potential security vulnerabilities they carry.
Other significant features SP1 adds are native Universal Serial Bus 2.0 support and support for the PowerNow processor-throttling capabilities of certain Advanced Micro Devices Inc. chips.
The full list of Windows XP SP1s fixes and feature tweaks—along with links to pertinent knowledge base articles—can be reviewed at Microsofts Web site.