WinXP SP2 Home To Be Available On Auto Update Aug. 18

Windows XP Service Pack 2

And while they expect more problems after SP2 for Windows XP Professional becomes available over Automatic Update (AU) on Aug. 25, partners are preparing for a messy week following the broad availability of the Service Pack for home edition users beginning Aug. 18.

Silicon East, Manalapan, N.J., heard the first alarms Tuesday morning after one customer, a home builder, downloaded either the final SP2 code or beta code from Automatic Update. Two remote workers immediately lost access to the company's customer service database running on Microsoft Access, prompting emergency calls to Silicon East.

Marc Harrison, CEO of the solution provider, was not happy that some customers ignored a warning he sent out Sunday night advising clients to hold off on or use great "caution" when self-installing SP2.

"I'm going to send one of my techs out there, even though my official position was that I wasn't going to respond to it," Harrison told CRN. Harrison said his customer accessed SP2 from Automatic Update early this week. "We're going to make a lot of money on this, but it is very disruptive. We're booked solid for the foreseeable future, and if we respond to fires, it's some other client that doesn't get the service."

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Microsoft officially released gold code for SP2 to OEMs on Aug. 6 and followed with the network installation version for IT administrators and partners early last week.

Last week, Microsoft said it would hold off on releasing the much-anticipated Service Pack to consumers and business users through its Automatic Update site for a few weeks to allow for preparation.

A Microsoft spokesman said SP2 for Windows XP Home Edition was not available via Automatic Update on Monday or Tuesday, but users may have inadvertently downloaded a pre-release or a beta version of SP2 through the update service. Microsoft has distributed more than 1 million copies through the download center and MSDN to corporate and developer customers, he said.

According to an informal online poll conducted by CRN over the past week, solution providers are split over whether Windows XP SP2 will generate additional revenue for their businesses. Some believe it's a major update that could spur a new PC buying cycle over the long term, while others say they expect to reap in the dollars fixing problems related to application incompatibilities.

It's still unclear how many customers will deploy the Service Pack on their own and what the ramifications will be for those that do so. Distributor Ingram Micro said there are some known incompatibilities, but it's not a major problem. "We have run into certain specific incidents where there could be issues, but as a whole SP2 is working," said Brittanie Ngo, Microsoft product specialist at Ingram Micro, noting that the Service Pack adds many new features for IT security and wireless security. "Our technical support force does have SP2 and has tested it. We haven't had an onslaught of calls from resellers yet."

Microsoft plans to ship Windows XP with SP2 incorporated on Sept. 27.

The company early this week posted a list of SP2-related patches and workarounds being prepared by ISVs, including itself. Still, solution providers expect some customers to ignore the reports and download SP2 like any other patch. Silicon East's Harrison, for example, said SP2 affects popular applications such as Symantec Ghost, AutoCAD, BackUp Exec and SonicWall.

Application incompatibilities typically follow the release of any major Windows release. One ISV in the patch management business said Microsoft was open and vocal about the fact that turning the Windows Firewall on by default and changing the DCOM and RPC stack would bolster security but require some software tuning by its ISV partners.

Shavlik Technologies' HFNetCHKPro patch management platform works "beautifully" to deploy Windows XP SP2 across corporate infrastructures -- as long as you don't download SP2 onto the Shavlik console, executives said. "We don't recommend running our console on SP2 machines or for any security professionals running professional scanners," said Eric Schultze, chief security architect at Shavlik Technologies, who added that Microsoft put a limit on the number of ports that can be open. "Those products start going slower or start giving bad results."

He said customers can simply run the Shavlik console on a Windows 2000 system or opt to download a limited number of service packs -- 10 -- simultaneously, which will prevent performance issues.

Nortec Communications, a 30-person Microsoft Gold Certified Partner in Falls Church, Va., issued an advisory to customers to move forward on their XP SP2 deployments.

"Windows XP Service Pack 2 is the largest operating system Service Pack ever produced by Microsoft. The massive size shows that most of the code within Windows XP has received updates, and the scale of change is expected to cause trouble with many applications and with some peripheral hardware," Nortec's advisory said.

"Nortec recommends that businesses test Windows XP Service Pack 2 as soon as it is available and plan a rapid deployment. Prior Microsoft updates have been reverse-engineered, and within as little as 20 days, exploits were available and used to attack unpatched systems. While Windows XP Service Pack 2 may cause compatibility trouble, it appears that most of that trouble will be with home systems."