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August 12, 2004 - Vol. 4, Issue No. 61 — Special Edition

By Scot Finnie


  • First Experiences with Windows XP Service Pack 2
  • About this Special Edition
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    First Experiences with Windows XP Service Pack 2 Gold
    On Saturday I issued a special edition of this newsletter to deliver some key points about Windows XP Service Pack 2 during the first 24 hours after Microsoft released the final version to manufacturing. Five days later, I've learned quite a bit more about Windows XP SP2. This story, offered on TechWeb's Small Business Pipeline, is a direct update of the story I wrote in Scot's Newsletter on Saturday:

  • Windows XP SP2 Hits the Streets

    Download It Now
    Please keep in mind that my recommendation has been — and continues to be — that you should wait 30 days before installing this major upgrade to Windows XP, assuming you already have a firewall and up-to-date antivirus program in place. That's because there are always problems for a small percentage of users with service packs. Let's find out what those problems are first. But if you have a good reason to install it immediately, it is available to anyone with a fast Internet connection from a hard-to-find Microsoft Downloads page: Download the final version of Windows XP SP2 right now.

    This downloadable version of SP2, called the "network installation," is a giant 266MB setup file designed to be used by IT administrators to install SP2 to multiple PCs over a network. Microsoft's plan for installing SP2 on end-user machines is an online installation routine served via Automatic Updates at first, and later via Windows Update also. This installation could require as little as a 75MB download, depending upon how many Windows XP security patches you already have installed on your computer. The end result of either the network installation or the online installation is the same. There is only one version of SP2. It's just that the process is different. And the network install requires a much bigger 266MB upfront download.

    I prefer the network installation for several reasons. You get a local installer that you can use again and again. After the initial download, it's more convenient. You don't have to be online while you perform the installation. And best of all: I believe it will result in more reliable installations. Some percentage of the time, online installations fail because of the vagaries of the Internet. Microsoft has done some things to make its online setup process resumable, but I already have some reports of problems with online installs of XP SP2.

    When It Will Be Generally Available
    But wait, Microsoft hasn't released Service Pack 2 to Automatic Updates yet, has it? Some time late in the evening on Tuesday, August 10, Microsoft turned on the Automatic Updates release of XP SP2 to computers with XP SP2 pre-release versions installed (I believe both RC1 and RC2 installations are in this group) that have Automatic Updates turned on. In the Saturday Special Edition of this newsletter, I suggested that by having Windows Update version 5 installed on your computer (and I explained how to do that), you might be included in this early release group. So far that has not proven to be the case. All three of the XP SP2 RC2 computers I have were offered XP SP2 gold on Wednesday (after there were first offered a patch to the incremental update code that I accepted). None of my Windows XP SP1 machines with Windows Update v.5.0 installed have so far been offered XP SP2.

    The following information, which was neither confirmed nor denied by a Microsoft representative, came from an SFNL reader who requested anonymity. It provides a timeline for SP2 releases to various channels. It has so far been accurate:

    Microsoft planned schedule for releasing Windows XP Service Pack 2:

    Aug. 9 - Release network installation package to Microsoft Download Center.
    Aug. 10 - Release to Automatic Updates for machines running pre-released versions of XP SP2.
    Aug. 16 - Release to Automatic Updates for machines running original, SP1, and SP1a versions of XP SP2.
    Aug. 16 - Release to software update services
    Later in Aug. - Date to be determined, release to Windows Update for interactive user installations.

    An important footnote for Windows 2000 SP3 readers: Windows 2000 will be able to access Windows Update v.5.0, but the trick I gave last time for installing that version of Windows Update does not work for Windows 2000 at this time. And for XP users attempting to get the update via Automatic Updates, you do not have to have Automatic Updates turned on to automatically install updates. Automatic Updates must be on, but you can choose to have it either notify only or download and notify, and you will still be offered SP2.

    The final build number of Windows XP Service Pack 2 is 2180. When you look on the General tab of the System Control Panel, an SP2 computer is listed as: "Microsoft Windows XP Version 2002 Service Pack 2." Internet Explorer's new version number in SP2 is 6.0.2900.2180.xpsp_sp2_rtm.040803-2158. (It's likely that the characters after "xpsp_sp2" vary.)

    The best way to get Service Pack 2 for many people — including everyone on dial-up — is to request that Microsoft send it to you on CD via mail. The Request Page for the Windows XP SP2 CD is live, but at press time, Microsoft had not yet enabled this page to make requests possible. I am trying to get more information about when this channel for getting the new code will be opened.

    XP SP2 in the Live
    Reports about problems with XP SP2 are beginning to trickle in. I am very interested in your experiences, so if you have installed XP SP2 already — or whenever you do — please write to let me know what happened on your PC.

    My experiences so far include SP2 setups using the netework installer on my two primary computers as well as an online Automatic Updates installation on a machine running XP SP2 RC2. All three installations went off perfectly. I have had no problems at all. And most reports I've had so far are similar, but I don't expect that to last. Every major new version of any piece of software that will eventually installed on probably 100 million PCs, is bound to have serious problems on a small percentage. But a small percentage of 100 Million PCs is a whole lot of trouble.

    The experiences of Scot's Newsletter reader Ron Fleischer are perhaps instructive:

    I was running SP2 RC2 at the time I got the notification via Automatic Updates that the upgrade was ready to install. I did so using the Express Install. Things went fine for a while, but then I noticed that the progress bar had stopped moving. I waited 45 more minutes but nothing was happening. The install hung at the point that MSADP32.ACM was being installed. I don't know if that's significant or not.

    Anyhow, I couldn't do anything to unstick the hang. I couldn't access the computer from other boxes on my home network. Ctrl-Alt-Del did nothing. I finally had to turn off the power. Fortunately, I was able to recover by using GoBack, but now I'm afraid to try it again. I have downloaded the SP2 file from an FTP site so I won't have to go through [the online installation process], but I'm not sure I want to take the chance. I think I'll wait until I hear what you have to say in future newsletters before I try it again. --Ron Fleischer

    While I don't think this in any way caused Ron's problem, I would recommend against using the "Express Install" option. The other option (whose formal name escapes me at the moment) also goes off automatically, but it provides more information upfront about what's happening. I expect many other people will have problems like this one. A good tip to remember is to turn off or disable as many applications running on your machine as possible. Many notebook PCs, for example, have a lot of OEM-specific programs running in background. You might want to kill those processes before you install any major Windows upgrade. You should also temporarily turn off your software firewall, antivirus program, and any other major applications that may be running. The reason for this is that if a program is in the process of using a specific Windows system file, that file may be protected from being overwritten, halting the SP2 installation process.

    Over the next week or two I will be installing SP2 on a long list of PCs. In a future edition of the newsletter, my hands-on experiences, as well as those reported to me by SFNL readers and others, will be reported with my recommendations about how to install this product, how to confirgure it, and any yellow light issues that crop up. Stay tuned.

    About this Special Edition
    When something important is breaking and it'll be a long time before I mail the next newsletter issue, I send out special editions of Scot's Newsletter like this one. So even though you got the last issue of the newsletter less than a week ago, you're getting this one today. Hopefully you'll agree that the information it contains was well worth the added message in your inbox.

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