Tip

Keeping your cool during a Windows XP SP2 installation

IT administrators have heard all of the warnings about massive changes in Microsoft's new desktop operating system and how they could possibly break their applications.

But despite the potential for Windows XP Service Pack 2 to cause some trouble, many administrators are saying they are prepared to deal with it. After XP SP2 is released, possibly as early as next week, IT professionals will do their own testing, and whatever breaks, they will fix.

"Sure I'm a little leery about it, because they are changing a lot," said Clyde Johnson, senior network and systems administrator at Olin Corp., a Norwalk, Conn., sporting ammunition and metals company. "We want to make sure that

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Group Policy will control [everything], and as far as I can tell, it can."

Johnson said that following an internal test of XP SP2, he plans to use Software Update Services to install it on his PCs. "If something breaks we will fix it, though I'm not too worried, since we use mostly Microsoft applications," he said.

But even those are not immune to trouble. This week, Microsoft acknowledged that XP SP2 will cause problems for companies running its CRM 1.2 suite. The software maker said modifications to the CRM applications, including the Outlook e-mail client for CRM 1.2, will be required as a workaround.

Issues arose during one customer's tests

Jim Harings, an IT administrator for a Milwaukee-based industrial automation company, said XP SP2 had trouble with some of his company's applications during an initial test. But that's not unexpected during the pre-beta stage, he said. Once the product is ready, it will undergo another rigorous test.

"It's going to be a while [before we install XP SP2], unless there is an identified vulnerability," Harings said. "It would have to be large -- something a previous patch didn't cover."

It's been two years since Microsoft has issued a set of integrated fixes for XP, and that's one reason for all the anticipation, said Michael Cherry, a lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm. But customers also have their eye on the much-touted advanced security features.

Microsoft said hundreds of thousands of users and developers have already tested the software, which now includes a firewall enabled by default, an attachment manager, some code-level improvements to Internet Explorer and an improved control panel, which helps users monitor security features.

Ensure applications are supported

The main cause for concern is in making sure older applications work, Cherry said. "[IT administrators] should check the vendor of their software to see what their support plans are for XP SP2," Cherry said.

Cherry and other experts are advising customers to treat XP SP2 as if it were a new release. "Don't let the name 'service pack' fool you," he said. "You need to do a backup before you install this one."

Jeff Dentemann, an author and IT expert based in Colorado Springs, Colo., said most of the problems users may experience will likely come from Web-based plug-ins. "These interfaces are going change and tighten up, which may cause third-party plug-ins to fail," he said.

To some extent, this is caused by the addition of the new firewall. While not all users will choose to run the XP SP2 firewall, it's something to be aware of, he said.


This was first published in August 2004

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