Microsoft

Initial reaction to XP SP2 is generally favorable, but not everyone agrees

Soon after Microsoft released XP Service Pack 2 for professionals, TechRepublic asked its members for their first-hand accounts regarding deployment. Here is what we can glean from the responses.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) is a complex update with many ramifications for IT pros. TechRepublic's Windows XP Service Pack 2 Quick Guide drills down on critical SP2 need-to-know areas, with sections on fundamentals, changes that occur after installation, deployment procedures, problem areas, and removal.

The Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) Network Installation Package has been available for just over a week at the time of this writing. Reading through the discussion thread stemming from TechRepublic's initial request for first-hand accounts of the deployment of this rather large pack leaves a decidedly mixed impression.

Generally speaking, most TechRepublic members who used the SP2 Network Installation Package found deployment to be non-eventful but time-consuming. However, as is to be expected with an installation as massive and all-encompassing as SP2, some TechRepublic members have reported minor glitches and configuration pratfalls. Let's take a look at some of the comments posted in the discussion to see if we can glean some common themes, problems, and, if possible, solutions to these deployment glitches.

Initial reaction

One of the first posts in the discussion thread came from cyberjunkie21:
We've only installed it on a few machines to see what all changes. I don't like how it automatically sets the firewall on by default, but that's easy to fix. Other than that, everything went pretty good. It does take quite a long time to install, 30 minutes minimum and up to an hour and a half on some. There are some cool features that users will have to learn and get used to though. IE now has a built-in pop-up blocker as well as other things. All in all, good job MS.

This post established the first major theme of the thread: that the SP2 deployment is generally smooth and uneventful.

The majority of posters expressed similar findings to those of Joseph Moore, who shared this experience:
I pulled it down on Monday and installed it on my machine (as a test before we even consider rolling it out to users). I had previously run SP2RC1 (which I uninstalled after a month), but this official SP2 was much better!
IE is working a little faster than before (about as fast as Firefox, I think). Plus, the new pop-up blocker is good (but then again, Firefox does this as well).
I've got the Windows Firewall enabled on my LAN NIC, with a couple of ports open (I do let local users hit a shared folder on my machine when needed), and that seems to be fine. The alerts when new programs try to connect to the Internet are working (same idea that ZoneAlarm and other firewalls have).
The only problem was, it took a few reboots initially for my sound card to be recognized, but that calmed down.
And the only other problem that is still outstanding is a driver incompatibility with InterVideo WinDVD v3. Since SP2, WinDVD will not play any DVDs, as soon as the video playback starts, WinDVD crashes.
I've opened a case with InterVideo on this. I could buy an upgrade to v5 of WinDVD, but I don't want to (my IBM Thinkpad laptop came with v3 of WinDVD). We will see if they recommend the upgrade to v5 or something else.

Minor problems

Other minor problems began to appear in the discussion thread, like this post from TheITConsultant, who solved his NERO problem and shared it with TechRepublic members:
After installation of SP2, NERO Burning Rom rebelled with an error message: "NERO has known compatibility issues with this version of Windows." However, a trip to the NERO site at www.ahead.de showed that they have a 27 megabyte update for the NERO program that addresses this issue just fine and a 9 megabyte download for the UDF program. I hope that those are the LAST of the downloads. King Kong wasn't this big a monster!

Member Brian Hertziger shared a problem he had with the Cisco VPN client:
We use the Cisco VPN client, and I believe that the widely used version is a 3.6, but some have 4, and our IT group has said that the VPN client no longer works after SP2, so we cannot apply it (as some of us road warriors live by it).

Member patskinner had the same problem before updating the Cisco VPN client to version 4.02.

Updating application software to the latest available version seemed to be the answer for many of the glitches reported in the discussion thread. In addition, quite a few members had trouble with third-party antivirus applications from McAfee and Symantec, where the XP firewall prevented the automated retrieval of virus definition updates. Updating the antivirus software to the latest version and making some changes to their configuration seemed to solve these problems.

BHLang's experience was typical:
The significant problem was that my antivirus software ceased to function. We're using McAfee's VirusScan ASaP in conjunction with our SonicWall Firewall(s). The Firewall enforces antivirus protection; if the antivirus software cannot communicate with McAfee's update server, then the PC cannot reach the internet. All Internet-related functions are blocked. So I had to add all four software components that were affected to the Exceptions list in the Windows Firewall. In addition, in the Security Center, I told the system that I would monitor the antivirus software, as it is not savvy enough to talk to the security center yet.

Microsoft is well aware of the configuration challenges caused by the XP firewall and its new default On setting enacted by SP2 deployment. The Microsoft Knowledge Base contains an article that describes which ports need to be opened for the applications known to be impacted by SP2. With some initial planning in place before the actual deployment of the pack, you can save yourself from after-the-fact frustration. Perhaps cmilliman summed it up the best:
A lot of these posts seem like people are jumping to a re-install/format scenario when things go haywire. I'm not saying all bad installs don't warrant that action...but taking some steps before the install can help people avoid a complete loss of data/system functionality should a complete failure occur.

More good than bad

The generally uneventful deployment of SP2 experienced by TechRepublic members so far has both good and bad points. It is good that most IT professionals and network administrators will be able to deploy and install SP2 to their users with a minimal amount of problems requiring the further guidance of a professional. However, the flip side means that those IT professionals who do experience problems will have less first-hand resources to refer to when it comes to fixing their particular glitch or problem. The lack of common experience and, by extension, problem-solving knowledge could prove frustrating. TechRepublic member Experimenter's experience seems to capture that frustration in a nutshell:
Installed SP2 all appeared to work well until I rebooted and rebooted and.....it went around in circles, ad infinitum, never loading the full system. It would not boot into Safe Mode, it would not use last known good system. The only solution was to Ghost an image back and reload data - who says you do not need backups? Where is the SP2 CD now? You've guessed TRASHED! Thanks for a pleasant evening, Microsoft!

As you can see from Experimenter's exasperation, in some situations it's going to be very difficult to diagnose the problem and/or offer a constructive solution.

Potential trouble

The lack of major deployment problems should also not distract any IT professional from the potential that this large service pack has for unforeseen security problems. The TechRepublic XP Service Pack 2 Resource Center contains details about deployment difficulties, potential application conflicts, and solutions to common glitches regarding SP2 deployment.

In addition, reports are starting to filter in regarding recently discovered security flaws and vulnerabilities. CNET News.com has published several stories outlining potential vulnerabilities. Security researchers have also pointed out that Microsoft has not solved some well-known issues with a few of the security technologies incorporated into SP2.

While the jury is still out regarding the overall effectiveness of XP Service Pack 2, the early adopters have shown that the initial deployment is relatively smooth; but they have also shown that it can cause a few minor problems. So far, these have been problems that can generally be solved with some planning before deployment and configuration after deployment. It will be interesting to see what problems will be caused from more widespread deployment, especially when the consumer-level version becomes available.

About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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