Microsoft has finally announced the release of Windows XP Service Pack 2, a major software update for Windows XP that contains what the company is calling “advanced security technologies.” The free service pack comes with many across-the-board security updates, including hardened default security settings and new proactive protection features designed to help safeguard computers from hackers, viruses and other security risks.
“Service Pack 2 is a significant step in delivering on our goal to help customers make their PCs better isolated and more resilient in the face of increasingly sophisticated attacks,” said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft. “It is the result of sustained investments in innovation and extensive industry collaboration. It also reflects a broad recognition that as the security environment changes, the industry needs to work together to respond.”
During the worldwide rollout of Service Pack 2, Microsoft plans to localize the software in 25 languages over the next two months and distribute it to computer manufacturers, enterprise customers and consumers through downloads, retail installation, free CDs and on new PCs.
Downloading Service Pack 2
The easiest way for current Windows XP users to ensure they receive Service Pack 2 when it releases in their language is to turn on the Automatic Updates feature in Windows XP.
Customers with Automatic Updates enabled will receive the latest security updates for Windows XP, along with updated installation software that will optimize the download speed of Service Pack 2 and future updates to Windows XP.
The timing for customers to receive the Service Pack 2 download through Automatic Updates depends on several factors, including the customer’s Internet use, location, language and the level of Internet demand for Service Pack 2.
Automatic Updates uses spare Internet capacity to download updates progressively without interfering with daily PC use. Microsoft expects to distribute Service Pack 2 to approximately 100 million PCs through Automatic Updates over the next two months.
Getting SP 2 on CD
Customers without reliable Internet connections who wish to obtain Service Pack 2 on CD can order a free disc from Microsoft’s Web site as Service Pack 2 is rolled out worldwide.
Microsoft also is working with computer manufacturers to ensure they can make Windows XP-based PCs preloaded with Service Pack 2 available as soon as possible.
According to industry observers, businesses of all sizes should be evaluating Service Pack 2 now — if they have not begun doing so already. Business customers using Windows XP are advised by the company to deploy the service pack on their most important systems, especially notebooks and computers for home workers, as soon as is practical.
“With the proliferation of viruses and other broad threats on business and consumer desktops, I can think of no higher priority than trying to ensure the security of personal computers,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group. “Whether the customer is a large enterprise, a small business or an individual, Windows XP Service Pack 2 is critical because it addresses today’s exposures in a comprehensive fashion. For anyone currently using Windows XP, my advice is to apply it at your earliest opportunity.”
Windows XP Service Pack 2 was designed by Microsoft explicitly to provide proactive protection for Windows XP. The updates and enhancements in Service Pack 2 focus on three main areas: security settings, increased manageability and more secure experiences.
Microsoft claims that Service Pack 2 establishes stronger default security settings and includes updates with new features and tools designed to help customers better defend their systems and information from hackers, viruses and other security threats.
This means safer browsing and communications for consumers plus an improved security infrastructure for businesses. Service Pack 2 also is designed to make it easier to configure and manage security resources with new functionality, more accessible and intuitive security tools and the new Windows Security Center.
Service Pack 2 also includes updates for key drivers, updated support for new technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth — especially around security — and security updates for other key features, all of which provide a safer end-user experience and thus enable more productive and enjoyable computing.
Service Pack 2 incorporates the results of significant customer testing. Microsoft has hosted more than 1 million downloads of test versions of Service Pack 2 through its technical preview, technical beta and MSDN programs, making it one of the largest test programs in the company’s history.
In addition, Microsoft has tested thousands of applications and Windows XP-based devices for compatibility with Service Pack 2 and highly recommends the enhancements Service Pack 2 provides for all types of users.
Developing Service Pack 2 required close collaboration between Microsoft and other industry players, including software vendors, chip makers and PC manufacturers. For example, the new Windows Security Center monitors the status of software Internet firewalls, Automatic Updates services and antivirus software. It allows customers to see at a glance whether these security capabilities are turned on and up to date, or if additional actions need to be taken to better secure their PCs. Microsoft worked closely with ISVs to build the Windows Security Center.
Service Pack 2 works with processor technologies to reduce the risk of the most common means of virus penetration into computer systems — exploiting “buffer overrun” vulnerabilities. Microsoft worked closely with processor manufacturers, including AMD and Intel, to extend its Data Execution Prevention technology through new processor functionality.
“The security enhancements in Windows XP Service Pack 2 represent a significant improvement for customers in helping them make their computers more secure and giving them more control,” said Will Poole, senior vice president at Microsoft. “We encourage Windows XP users to spend five minutes today to turn on Automatic Updates, thus ensuring they will receive Service Pack 2 as it becomes available on a global basis.”