Dulce et Decorum Est

Now would be a good time.

I’m referring to Windows XP, Service Pack-2 (SP2). The promise of a more secure and resilient update to the Operating System has been in the proverbial post for some months now and I, for one, could do with a copy.

I now have so many Windows updates and patches on my primary HP, laptop that I’m starting to worry about its overall stability. This particular model was rebuilt once by Microsoft prior to the installation of Windows SP1 and today, I would guess that it needs rebooting at least three times each week when applications, Outlook, Word and Internet Explorer freeze for some unknown reason. Re-starting the laptop can take as long as ten minutes, by the time everything is re-loaded and work can begin again and although I can’t point the finger of blame in any single direction, I suspect that my layers of content security protection are a major factor in creating a ‘flaky’ Personal Computer.

But what can one do? Without anti-virus and anti-spyware tools surrounding your Windows installation, one might as well, to quote Captain Blackadder, “Be sitting in the middle of no-mans land at night, smoking a cigarette and wearing a luminous balaclava”.

To the rescue comes Windows XP SP2, which if you recall, is a service pack that will contain a number of features and fixes. Security, such as the Windows firewall is now a default and there is a new browser, greater e-mail protection and better memory handling. Presently, SP2 is in Beta testing but much like the handover of power in Iraq, it was widely predicted to appear by the end of this month.

Several sources are now saying that Microsoft may have discovered application compatibility problems that could delay the Service Pack and it is this question-mark over compatibility that makes people like me a little nervous. Microsoft is facing a huge challenge in ensuring that SP2 doesn’t break customer applications but there is only so much in the way of rigorous testing that the company can perform. Put another way, there has never been, to my knowledge, a perfectly robust Service Pack of anything I can remember and at TechEd, the company reportedly admitted that strengthening the security of Internet Explorer, which include a number of changes, including the addition of a pop-up blocker and more granular MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, has had an adverse impact on line-of-business application capability, which is hardly encouraging. The Firewall could present another problem, as it is now turned-on by default in SP2 and configuring applications individually to avoid being blocked is an unappealing scenario.

What we will get when SP2 eventually surfaces, is a more flexible, robust and secure version of Windows XP and this is worth a ripple of welcoming applause. However, I don’t much like hearing that “The time to test and implement SP2 is higher than a typical service pack”, even if the cost to patch code exploits one-by-one is "likely to be greater" than the cost of implementation of SP2.

For most of us this means that we’re trapped between “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and Microsoft’s next big push in its Trustworthy Computing campaign, which once again, takes us back to that lonely spot in no-man’s land, a cigarette and a free luminous balaclava.


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