Windows XP SP2 Features

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Call windows XP Service Pak 2 the on of the most involving projects that Microsoft has ever undertaken in its history.

The initial release date for SP2 slated June 2004 was moved twice with Release Candidates filling the gaps in between. Most of the glitches it ran into were due to compatibility issues with third party and Microsoft's own software's. An extensive list of applications that "totally don't work" and "some work partially" with SP2 is now posted on Microsoft's website.

Service Pack is a collection of all security patches issued after the initial release of an Operating System. Apart from fixing the holes, they may also upgrade existing programs, add more functionality or change the way OS works in short. You can get SP2 as a whooping 266MB single package or use Windows Update to get it in increments (recommended for home users).

What's New?

At first, the setup asks you to backup before proceeding and inspects your configuration during installation. It takes approximately half an hour to install and once completed, you can confirm the new status by checking System Properties. There was no visible change or warnings under Device Manager.

You won't notice any dramatic visual changes because there aren't any. It's a new OS; most of the changes update the system (kernel) files and not the GIU.

This is what you get with SP2 in a nutshell:

  • Security Center in Control Panel.

  • Improved secure Internet Explorer.

  • Improved Windows Firewall (now on by default).

  • No Execute (NX) technology.

  • Updated Bluetooth support (MS Bluetooth Client 2.0).

  • Wireless Network Setup Wizard.

  • Changes to Outlook Express.

  • Updates (Media Player 10, Movie Maker 2.1, DirectX 10).

The Security Center is a whole new way of alerting and protecting you. Added as an icon in the Control Panel it shows the status of your Firewall, Automatic Updates and Virus Protection from a single panel.

IE finally gets a long due pop-up blocker and still no tabbed browsing, something which comes by default in Opera, Mozilla and Firefox. The security settings have been pretty beefed-up though in the default settings. On trying to run an application from the web? IE blocks all ActiveX components by default. It then asks whether to proceed with the installation or not. A cream information bar appears just below the address bar flashing a warning. To over-ride this, click on the bar to allow installation.

IE also gets an Add-on Manager which displays all the plug-ins, toolbars and ActiveX components installed. To access it, click Manage Add-ons under Tools drop list from the Menu Bar.

The new Windows Firewall (previously known as the Internet Connection Firewall) is improved but does not match likes of Zone Alarm, Norton and other commercial firewalls. By default, the ports, not in use, are shut and traffic on the ones that are open, can be monitored for abnormal activity.

Also Windows Firewall starts as soon as you boot your PC even before you are prompted for a password--something that was surely lacking before. One thing to note is that Windows Firewall gives you inbound protection but can't stop your system from transmitting data to the Internet (outbound) and possible help in spreading worms!

The rest of the updates install newer versions of Windows applications such as Media Player, Movie Maker and DirectX all of which are available as separate downloads as well.

Bottom Line:

Banks, mission critical centers and organizations running custom software must first try out SP2 on a pilot project for simulation purposes. If all goes well only then deploy it at large. If you are a home user, what are you waiting for? Go get it, turn on Automatic Update or visit the Windows Update Site to download on installment. Corporate users include institutions must get the network package (266MB) and use it to install on multiple computer.


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