Will SP2 actually make a difference?

After the release of SP1, 30 flaws were identified - why should this time round be any different?

In August 2002, the IT community was abuzz with a Microsoft "breakthrough" called Service Pack 1. The mega software patch mainly comprised of security updates for the company's Windows XP operating system.

Service Pack 1, we were told, was the result of Microsoft's focus on improving the reliability and security of Windows. Jim Allchin, a senior Microsoft executive, even stuck his neck on the line by publicly stating: "Windows XP is the most secure and dependable operating system we have ever produced." Sure. And I'm Britney Spears' twin.

Service Pack 1 received its fair share of bad publicity and a lukewarm response from PC manufacturers, many of whom adopted a wait-and-see approach before shipping machines with the Windows update ... just in case compatibility issues cropped up.

Two years on, the technology world heralds another chapter in the Windows evolution.

With Windows XP Service Pack 2, however, Microsoft is singing a different tune -- taking a more humble approach with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates positioning SP2 as "a significant step in delivering on its goal to make PCs better isolated and more resilient in the face of increasingly sophisticated attacks." Whether security attacks are getting more sophisticated or Microsoft's products are plain weak is open for debate. Or perhaps it's just a potent combination of the two.

Apart from bug fixes, Service Pack 2 will boast a new "security centre", comprising an improved firewall and features to protect against viruses, among others. After numerous delays, Microsoft deserves an "A" for effort in finally completing the update.

Over the next two months, localisation efforts in 25 languages will take place. How fast a user downloads Service Pack 2 -- with the Automatic Updates function enabled -- will depend on a number of factors including location, language and Internet usage. Additionally, the 270MB patch will be rolled out through other mediums such as CDs and in pre-configured computers.

While Microsoft is urging users to turn on the Automatic Updates feature in Windows XP to receive the latest security updates, not all customers are biting. In a recent internal memo, IBM told employees to refrain from installing Service Pack 2 due to "known application problems and incompatibility with IBM workstation applications."

Just last week, Microsoft warned that its Business Solutions CRM Sales for Outlook 1.2 customers would face problems if they installed Service Pack 2. The company has since issued a patch for the flaw.

And let's not forget that within months of announcing Service Pack 1, Microsoft identified about 30 possible flaws with the update.

Really, how effective was Service Pack 1?

Users have to realise that Service Pack 2 is essentially an operating system upgrade, not a bunch of band-aids cobbled together as a defensive mechanism. If there weren't as much backlash against Microsoft for the sub-standard security in its products, SP2 could have very well been christened Longhorn, its next-generation Windows operating system.

Even with Automatic Updates steadfastly downloading each and every patch from Microsoft, at the end of the day, there will still be worms, viruses, Trojans and security breaches. Will Service Pack 2 make any difference? I can't see how.

For more coverage on ZDNet Australia, click here.

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