While Microsoft and most customers equate Windows XP Service Pack 2 with security updates, SP2 includes refreshed versions of Microsofts Tablet PC and Media Center versions of Windows XP, too.
And there are plenty of other non-security-specific features buried among the SP2 bits that have gotten far less publicity than the new firewall, pop-up blocker, e-mail-attachment handler and buffer-overrun-prevention technologies in the service pack.
Will the non-security features persuade many users to risk the potential application incompatibilities introduced by SP2? Probably not.
“Given that other bug fixes are available without installing SP2, I am not aware of any other unique feature to SP2 other than security-related items,” said one IT administrator, who requested anonymity.
Despite this perception, SP2 does include some new features and functionality outside the security purview. SP2 adds updated support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth drivers, as well as a new Bluetooth networking client.
SP2 also includes Windows Media Player 9, which has been available to XP users only as a download until now.
For XP users who also are running IIS (Internet Information Services) to host their own Web sites, Microsoft is offering support for IIS version 5.1 as part of the SP2 bits. The company also is including an updated version of MDAC (Microsoft Data Access Components), a collection of technologies that provide access to information across heterogeneous data sources.
Windows XP SP2 includes an upgrade to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 that will install on PCs running the current version of Media Center Edition. The updated 2004 bits provide improved TV picture quality, an enhanced music library, better photo handling, and access to music and video-on-demand, according to Microsoft.
SP2 also includes the Tablet PC Edition 2005 (code-named “Lonestar”) bits. Customers who install SP2 on a Tablet PC will be upgraded automatically. The 2005 release provides more completely integrated support for pen input, among other features.
The Lonestar code seems to be generating the most interest of all of the non-security-specific SP2 features.
“They actually got it right this time,” said one consultant who has worked with Tablet PCs, who requested anonymity. Lonestar “has contextual editing. Its much improved—what it should have been from the start. It took them a while, but this new operating system will surely take the Tablet PC to the next level. It improves the Tablet Input Panel and allows for word correction, makes pen data input much faster and has word suggestions.”
“Write Anywhere is gone, and some may miss that feature,” said a Tablet PC MVP (Most Valuable Professional) and user, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “However, the new TIP [Tablet Input Panel] feature greatly makes up for it. The real-time recognition and correction UI makes a world of difference, and actually makes extended text entry using the pen feasible. Thats definitely what the Tablet PC should have had at version 1.0.”
The Tablet MVP noted that the TIP feature still has some bugs. And users of first-generation Tablets probably will notice, some lag in the real-time recognition in the new operating system, which is ironic, he said, “given that overall, SP2 speeds things up—noticeably at times—and not just on Tablet PCs, either.”
The Lonestar release will allow developers to create new kinds of applications, the MVP said. “For example, inking within a browser—thats definitely something that a lot of Web apps could use, but it wasnt possible before Lonestar.”
More information on some of the non-security technologies in SP2 is available here.