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August 7, 2004 - Vol. 4, Issue No. 60 — Special Edition

By Scot Finnie


  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 Is Ready to Go
  • About this Special Edition
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    Windows XP SP2 Is Ready to Go
       - You Can't Get SP2 from Here
       - How Microsoft Is Rolling Out SP2
       - TIP: Installing Windows Update v.5.0
       - Interesting Details
       - Wait 30 Days!

    After a brief last-minute delay on Wednesday, Microsoft finally released the finished version of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) to manufacturing late Friday morning Pacific Time. This special edition of the newsletter contains quite a bit of new information about Service Pack 2 that I felt you needed to know immediately.

    You Can't Get SP2 from Here
    The first thing you'll notice about SP2 one day later on Saturday August 7, is that — for many people — the new service pack code is impossible to find.

    Here are the places where you might expect to find SP2. But as of 8:30AM ET on 8.7.2004, it is not there:

  • The Windows XP Software Updates
  • Windows Update
  • New Version 5.0 of Windows Update
  • Automatic Updates (there's no URL for this, it's Windows' built-in online updating functionality)
  • The Microsoft Downloads Center
  • The Request Page for the Windows XP SP2 CD
  • The Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 home page
  • The Windows XP Service Pack 2 Support Center
  • Windows XP SP2 for IT Professionals

    So if you're eager to get in line for the new service pack, you could be in for a short wait. But there is some additional information I wanted you to have at this point, both directly from Microsoft and from some other sources.

    How Microsoft Is Rolling Out SP2
    One of the more complicated aspects of XP Service Pack 2 is that it will be available in a variety of forms, and it doesn't have a single release day. If you get the new code through either Windows Update or XP's built-in Automatic Updates feature, you won't get it on the same day everybody else gets it. Why? Because Microsoft is staggering installation over a period of weeks and even months. According to Microsoft product manager Greg Sullivan, the software giant expects to deliver tens of thousands of installations the first day, millions installations per day after it ramps up, and eventually to have delivered 100 million installations of SP2 via Windows Update and Automatic Updates.

    According to a Microsoft press release, "The timing for customers to receive the Service Pack 2 download through Automatic Updates depends on a number of factors, including the customer's Internet usage, location, language, and the [overall] level of Internet demand for Service Pack 2." Microsoft's chief concern in staggering the release appears to be its own server load. The company is expecting huge demand for this release, and it is not a small release.

    SP2 will also be offered as a straight FTP-style download, which during beta, was termed the "network install." At press time, this link was not yet available. Sources say it might be available on Monday, August 9, but again because of server load, that date could be pushed back. MSDN and XP SP2 beta testers, who were offered a similar link on Friday evening, report extremely slow download times, presumably because so many people were trying to download the code simultaneously. The network install is much larger than the sum total of the code you would download via Automatic Updates or Windows Update. That's because the network install contains all the code. Microsoft's online installations of SP2 are incremental; they only install the software you don't already have installed. Note: You don't have to have Windows XP Service Pack 1 installed in order to install SP2. Microsoft service packs are supersets that include previous service packs.

    The final build number of Windows XP Service Pack 2 is 2180. It was provided late in the day Friday to XP SP2 beta testers and MSDN subscribers. If you have access to the new Windows Update version 5.0 or if you have Windows XP SP2 Release Candidate 2 (RC2) installed — and you want to be an early adopter (think twice though) — the word is that you should turn on Automatic Updates all the way, and that if you do that, Service Pack 2 will automatically install at some point on Tuesday, August 10.

    This special edition of the newsletter is going to pull the "Do as I say, not as I do" thing on you. Because I'm going to recommend that you wait 30 days to install Service Pack 2. But I'm also going to give you a method that I think will get you the new code sooner than most people. Some of you are just going to want to get it for test purposes. But if you're just curious, and especially if you have only one PC — please, wait 30 days. Everyone should be running a firewall and antivirus software at all times. I'm expecting that most Scot's Newsletter readers already know this, already do it, and know why. If you're not sure and don't have security protections in place, perhaps you should install SP2 right away.

    TIP: Installing Windows Update v.5.0
    If it's true that anyone who has Windows Update version 5.0 installed, and who has Automatic Updates turned on, will receive XP SP2 on Tuesday is true — and you really want the new code — all you really need is access to Windows Update 5.0. While there is freely downloadable beta code, there's an easier way:

    For more experienced users only, please. There have been some reports of dire issues with Windows Update v.5.0, but I remain more or less unconcerned about it. For more information on Windows Update v.5.0, check out Fred Langa's article on InformationWeek. To install Windows Update v.5.0 right now, follow these steps. Launch this URL:

    When prompted to accept an update to Windows Update, accept it. You should also see a message reading "Get the latest Windows Update software" and an "Install Now" button. Click the button. That will install the new v.5.0 code on your system, and poof, you're running version 5.0 of Windows Update.

    So the only other step required to entice Microsoft to extend you access to the SP2 code is to turn on Automatic Updates. It's unclear whether you need to turn on Automatic Updates to its fully automatic install-at-will mode or whether you can turn it on to any flavor of "on" (notify only, download automatically but prompt before installing, or full automatic). For what it's worth, I use the second one. And if I didn't have a fast broadband connection, I would use the first option.

    Microsoft has an elaborately crafted Protect site that explains how to turn on Automatic Updates and do other things to secure your PC. The "let us do it for you" option on this site is similar in functionality to the Windows Security Center.

    Interesting Details
    A few random bits of information recently gleaned from various sources:

    Internally, Microsoft beta testers have been told that the final version of SP2 will upgrade Release Candidate 2 (RC2) just fine. And, in fact, computers running RC2 with Automatic Updates turned on in full automatic mode will receive SP2 upgrades automatically. I will be testing how well that works on one machine. But, I do NOT recommend that you upgrade to Windows XP Service Pack 2 that way. At the very least, you should uninstall XP SP2 RC2. A far better approach would be to wipe your disk and start over or revert to a previous Norton Ghost (or similar) backed-up version of your entire disk contents.

    Non-Microsoft sources tell me that the final build of Windows XP Service Pack 2 will only block the same widely distributed pirated Windows XP Product IDs that Windows XP Service Pack 1 blocked. If that's true, it's probably because Microsoft has decided to get SP2 onto as many machines as possible. I completely agree with that decision, if true. Microsoft is unlikely to comment on this point, but I intend to ask the company at the next opportunity.

    Finally, what's the difference between RC2 and the final version? According to Microsoft's Sullivan, there are no significant new features, visual changes, or user-interface differences. The primary differences were invisible changes to improve application compatibility and SP2 installation. There was also a last-minute deal breaker, a change that took about 48 hours to complete, that was never explained.

    It's still not clear to me whether the background installation of Automatic Updates on Shutdown of Windows XP with SP2 was modified or disabled in the final version of the code. My guess is that this behavior is still in place. For details on this issue, see the "Automatic Updates Gets Aggressive" section of my review of Windows XP Service Pack 2 RC2.

    Microsoft never did enable sample updates during the RC2 timeframe. As a result, beta testers weren't able to check out the operation of Automatic Updates in conjunction with shutting down Windows. I found the functionality in Beta 1 and Release Candidate 1 to be overly aggressive and especially frustrating to dial-up users. With one specific Automatic Updates setting, it could potentially take hours for your machine to shutdown. While most people wouldn't experience that either at all or would only experience it infrequently, it wasn't an acceptable user experience.

    Wait 30 Days!
    Unless you're evaluating Windows XP Service Pack 2 for your company or you're installing it on a second or third PC that's not relied upon for daily use by anyone, you should hold off on installing Windows XP Service Pack 2. I guarantee you that there will be howls about problems installing it, using it, issues on some PC makes or models, with some important applications, etc., etc. There are *always* issues with operating system service packs. This one, which is far more significant than most, is even more likely to cause problems. Web-based applications and network-related software is what's most likely to be broken by this release. But there will be unanticipated problems. Lot's of them. You don't want to discover these problems for Microsoft.

    The smart people know to do this: Hang back, let other people be the guinea pigs. Be one of them. Your computer isn't going to keel over and die if you wait for a few weeks to hear what people like me — who will be installing right away — will say and write about the new release. So long as you have a firewall in place and you're running up-to-date antivirus software, you're already doing your bit to save the world. Not to make light of the security issues, which are quite real, but a lot of what's new in XP SP2 is aimed at inexperienced computer users. If your machine is protected already and are at least moderately experienced, take the wait-and-see approach.

    In an upcoming issue of the newsletter, I will report on the final version of Windows XP Service, both in terms of what's new and also potentially any problems of note. So stay tuned.

    In the meantime, please check out the XP SP2 articles and perspectives previously published in the newsletter:

  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 Nears Completion
  • The Lowdown on XP Service Pack 2 RC2
  • Perspective on Microsoft's XP Service Pack 2 Plans
  • Update on Win XP Service Pack 2 RC1
  • First Run: Windows XP Service Pack 2 RC1
  • Q&A: Windows Longhorn and XP SP2
  • Beta Review: First Look At Windows XP Service Pack 2
  • The Scot's Newsletter Forums Windows and Microsoft Forum

    About this Special Edition
    I do this rarely, but when something breaks and it'll be a long time before I will mail the next edition of the newsletter, I send out special editions of the newsletter like this one. So even though you got the last issue of the newsletter less than a week ago, you're getting another one. Hopefully you'll agree that this one was worth the added mail in your inbox.

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