Yet Another Service Pack for XP

Expect Microsoft to issue a security fix for Windows XP after releasing the next version of Windows, called Vista. According to a news report from ZDNet France (“Microsoft confirms next XP service pack“):

Microsoft has revealed plans to release a third service pack for its Windows XP operating system. “There will be a Service Pack 3 for Windows XP,” Bernard Ourghanlian, technical and security director at Microsoft France, confirmed, revealing that Microsoft’s OS is set for another major update. Windows XP’s Service Pack 2, which came out last September, deeply modified the operating system by updating its security. Windows XP SP3 will be available sometime next year — after the launch of Windows Vista, which “is the priority for the development teams,” according to Microsoft France.

Check here for rumors about Windows XP Service Pack 3. While Microsoft won’t officially confirm that there will be a Service Pack 3 — referring instead to collections of already released patches, known as an Update Rollup (as with Windows 2000) — many patches posted on Microsoft’s Web site mention that they’re slated to be part of Service Pack 3.

When will we ever learn?

Remember Service Pack 2 (SP2)? At the time of its release, Microsoft issued a list of nearly 50 popular applications and games that would “encounter problems” with SP2. Among the primary issues were glitches related to the relationship between the Windows firewall, which is automatically turned on as a security default by SP2, and many of the listed programs. The updated firewall prevented applications from properly connecting to outside networks, limiting their ability to receive data. Some of the problems caused by the SP2 update included issues with remote desktops, filesharing, email notifications, and online multi-player games. Among the most high-profile, widely used products listed were anti-virus applications from Symantec, network management software made by Computer Associates International, and multimedia tools from Macromedia.

Windows systems upgraded with SP2 are more secure than those without it. But the SP2 upgrade instilled a false sense of security in administrators who installed it on their users’ desktops and laptops. In many cases, when a warning appeared about the Windows firewall blocking an unknown application, people clicked the Unblock button just to get rid of the warning message and moved on with their work, defeating the purpose of the firewall in the first place.

The SP2 problems related to anti-virus applications were disconcerting, because these applications are the first line of defense against virus attacks. Perhaps Microsoft didn’t move fast enough to help the vendors of anti-virus applications, because Microsoft is looking to expand into this area with its own anti-virus products. If that’s the case, Microsoft may move sluggishly once again, putting great numbers of XP users at risk.

This strategy is, of course, part of the stick. The carrot is Vista (formerly known as Longhorn, but changed after too many bull jokes), the new version of Windows, that will ship before this rumored SP3.

As Stewart Alsop pointed out in Fortune Magazine, “If you look at the history of Microsoft in the operating system business, you might conclude that the company doesn’t like its own products. It always seems to be saying it has some new operating system that will solve the problems of whatever it is selling at the time.”


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