Microsoft Realeases Windows XP SP2 RC1
by Arie Slob
Hello Windows users,
Last Wednesday, Microsoft shipped the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) to its beta testers.
Today Microsoft announces broad availability of this service pack to its TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers. Microsoft has added a Windows XP Service Pack 2 Technical Preview Program, which is available at a new Microsoft TechNet portal site. The portal will also provide access to a variety of SP2 supporting materials, and newsgroups devoted to sharing information regarding the testing of Windows XP SP2. The download is currently available in English, German, and Japanese (requires an existing installation of Windows XP).
Windows XP SP2 RC1 includes quite a number of changes when compared with the beta (build 2055) released last December, and which I reviewed last January.
The new service pack is huge. The full install (Network) weighs in at 273 MB. According to Microsoft, this is being caused by the fact that a lot of Windows XP code has been re-compiled (re-build), to take advantage of the new programming which includes greater protection against buffer overflows (buffer overflows are a common cause for a great number of the security flaws in Windows XP). This service pack also contains updates for Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) and Tablet PC, which also adds to the size.
Below is a short review of Windows XP SP2 RC1. I've concentrated most on things new & changed since I wrote the previous review on the beta build 2055 last January.
Right after installing SP2, and restarting the PC for the first time, you'll get prompted to switch on automatic updates (as did the last beta), the screen has been made a little prettier, and instead of "strongly recommended", the suggestion to turn on Automatic Updates is now "recommended" (Figure). There's also some more explanation for choosing "Not right now", which suggests that your computer will be more vulnerable to viruses and other security threats.
The configuration screen of Automatic Updates (under System in the Control Panel) has also been slightly changed (Figure), with clearer text, and a link to Windows Update for people who want to update manually.
Windows Update v5
With this also comes a new Windows Update Web site (V5, still in testing). The site will detect if Automatic Updates is switched off, and will suggest that you turn the feature on. Windows Update v5 is a nice improvement over the previous Windows Update. There are now two suggested install methods: Express Install (Recommended) and Custom Install (Figure).
The Express Install will only scan for, download and install the critical and security updates needed by your computer. The new Windows Update site should do a better job of detecting which updates are really needed, in an effort to reduce the size of the download, in order to improve the functionality for people that still use a slow (modem) connection.
The Custom Install will also scan for optional updates (besides the critical and security updates), and let you choose & review updates before installing.
Windows Security Center
The most prominent addition is called the "Security Center" (Figure), which can be accessed from the Control Panel (Figure). The Security Center is an effort to combine all monitoring of essential (security) features/services, and provide easy access to information & updates. The Security Center can monitor firewalls, Automatic Updates and anti-virus software, and will pop-up an alert if it finds anything it considers a risk.
All settings controlled by the Security Center can be managed centrally via group policies, which should make SP2 easier to manage in the enterprise.
The pop-up blocker added to Internet Explorer is now switched on by default. When you encounter a pop-up (or under) advertisement, a small "Information Bar" will appear under the Internet Explorer address bar, which will advise you that a pop-up was blocked (Figure). If you click on the bar, a menu will open which will let give you several options to choose from (Figure):
- Allow Pop-ups from This Site
- Turn Off Pop-up Blocker
- Turn Off Information Bar for Blocked Pop-ups
- Pop-up Blocker Settings
As mentioned in the previous review, the Internet Connection Firewall has now been renamed to Windows Firewall (Figure). The firewall itself has been further improved, with more easy configurable exceptions (there's an "Add Program" and "Add Port" button) (Figure). There are also more advanced settings that can be configured (Network Settings, Security Logging & ICMP)(Figure).
Also integrated in this Service Pack is support for Bluetooth, DirectX 9.0b & Windows Media Player 9.
Security is further enhanced in this service pack in the following ways:
- Windows Messenger Service is switched off by default. Note: Windows Messenger Service is not Windows Messenger, the instant messaging client in Windows. Windows Messenger Service is a network administration tool that has been exploited by spammers. When the service is off, spammers will not be able to use the feature to send unwanted pop-up ads to users.
- More secure infrastructure for the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM). More granular COM permissions were created to give administrators the flexibility to control a computer's COM permission policy. These additional access control restrictions will reduce the risk of a successful network attack.
- Reduction of the attack surface of a Windows XP-based computer while on a network. For example, the Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service will run with reduced privileges and will no longer accept unauthenticated connections by default. (RPC was exploited by the Blaster worm)
It is expected that Microsoft will release at least one more "Release Candidate" (RC2) before it releases SP2, which is expected sometime this summer.
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Next week I will be travelling from Europe to the USA, to attend the 2004 MVP Global Summit at Microsoft, which will be held April 4-7. The weekend following the summit I'll be travelling back home to Malta. I don't think that my schedule will allow me some time to publish a newsletter when travelling, so you can expect the next newsletter to be published on April 17th.
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Read Microsoft Knowledge Base article 309369.
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