XP Service Pack 2: Last Stop Till Longhorn

Microsoft is playing up its next update, chock-full of new security features and bug fixes, as the next best thing to Longhorn.

Microsoft Corp. executives have kicked off the campaign for the companys next big Windows push: Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2).

In a Webcast Tuesday morning, Microsoft Security Business Unit Vice President Mike Nash said to expect the service pack—a major release—to enhance security in four ways. It will remedy open ports, malicious e-mail attachments, malicious Web content and buffer overrun attacks, Nash said.

Testers should begin receiving SP2 code before the end of this month via TechNet Plus and/or the Microsoft Developer Network, he said. Many observers are expecting Microsoft to start getting code into testers hands as early as this week.

If SP2 goes live by the middle of 2004, as Microsoft executives are continuing to say, customers will have had to wait almost two years to get an updated service pack.

Windows XP shipped in October 2001. XP Service Pack 1 went live in September 2002; the 1a update (which removed Java to comply with a legal settlement with Sun Microsystems Inc.), in February 2003.

The next full-fledged upgrade to Windows XP, code-named Windows "Longhorn," is not expected to debut until 2006 at the earliest.

During the past couple of years, Microsoft execs have claimed that service packs should comprise bug fixes only, not new features. But with SP2, that policy seems to be going by the wayside.

Earlier this year, Microsoft was on a path to deliver the final version of SP2 this fall. Several beta versions of the service pack went to testers in the spring. But around midyear, company execs changed course and decided to add new features, in addition to the myriad bug fixes on tap, to the SP2 release.

Nash told Webcast attendees that he has been running SP2 on his own PC "for a while."

Next page: SP2 to include Windows Firewall.