Microsoft puts the finishing touches on SP2

Windows XP Service Pack 2 will be released in the next two months, along with a new version of Windows Update, according to Microsoft

Microsoft users have been waiting for SP2 since the end of 2003 but it seems that the end is finally in sight.

"I can guarantee it [SP2] will ship within the next 2 months," said Tony Goodhew, product manager at Microsoft, at the Microsoft Tech Ed 2004 conference in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Windows Update will be upgraded to version 5.0 just before the release of SP2. The main improvement with the new release is that if a download is stopped part-way through, rather than having to start again, the download will be restarted from the point at which it stopped. This should be particularly useful for downloading SP2, which is 80MB in size.

Microsoft recently acknowledged that the download times for patches over dial-up connections were an issue. The changes to Windows Update should resolve the problem and encourage more home users to patch their machines. Security specialists claim that home PCs are often responsible for propagating viruses and other malware.

A preview of version 5.0 of Windows Update can be found here.

SP2 is complete, although Microsoft has not yet decided whether to turn on certain features, according to Goodhew. He explained that Microsoft faces a dilemma over buffer overflow protection. Buffer overflows happen when too much data is put into an area of memory, which can cause a system to crash or leave it vulnerable to attack. Microsoft initially turned on buffer overflow protection in SP2, but this caused problems in certain applications, so they turned it off again. leaving users to decide when to activate it.

Most of the delegates that ZDNet UK spoke to at the Tech Ed event were looking forward to SP2. "SP2 is a great improvement," said Paul Wildenberg, a consultant at a Dutch IT consultancy. His view was echoed by Barnabas Megyesi, an IT operational manager for the Hungarian government. "SP2 has some great features. The pop-up killer is a good feature, as many users have a headache with it," he said

A few delegates commented on the hassles of deploying SP2 because of integration issues. "SP2 is a major pain for people like me. It is a lot of work to deploy it -- doing all the research and testing to make sure it fits into the infrastructure," said Aidan Finn, Network Team Leader at Hypo Real Estate Bank in Ireland.

Goodhew responded to the comments about deployment problems by saying: "We are doing as much work as possible to make deployment as painless as possible".

He said that patches are a necessary part of software development because "there is no such thing as perfect software." He added that Nasa may produce perfect software, at the cost of 1000 dollars per line of code, but Microsoft customers want to pay only 50 cents per line.