Microsoft is delaying distribution of Windows XP Service Pack 2 via its Automatic Update service by at least nine days in order to give corporate customers more time to temporarily block automatic downloading of SP2 by their employees.
The software maker notified customers of the decision via e-mail on Monday, when it had planned to make SP2 available via automatic distribution. Microsoft said many big companies aren't ready to make the move and need more time to put in place until they can fully test their internal applications.
SP2 now won't be available on Automatic Update until Aug. 25 at the earliest, according to the e-mail, which was posted to a number of enthusiast Web sites, including , a software developer based in Amsterdam.
Microsoft representatives were not immediately available for comment.
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Microsoft to PC manufacturers on Aug. 6 after .
Along with various bug fixes, SP2 adds a new "security center" that is intended to provide a beefed-up firewall as well as easy ways to tell whether a PC is updated and protected against viruses. In addition, SP2 includes a pop-up blocker in the Internet Explorer browser and updated support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technologies.
Compatibility with older applications is a major concern for corporate users. Microsoft on Monday published a list of nearly 50 software applications and games that may encounter problems with SP2. A range of applications are listed in the Microsoft report, including several of the software maker's own products, along with antivirus tools, Web server software and a handful of games.
The auto update delay is unlikely to be a problem for customers. Many companies appear to be in no hurry to install the update. IBM to hold off installing SP2 until Big Blue can fully test and customize it. The company's technology department said the delay is "due to known application problems and incompatibility with IBM workstation applications."
The glitches with existing Windows applications isn't a surprise, since SP2's new firewall technology "was inevitably going to cause problems with applications and their ability connect to the Internet," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk.
Few people using Windows at home have firewall software installed, so those users will be better off, despite delays in making SP2 available, he said.
But O'Grady took Microsoft to task for SP2's rollout to large companies, and in particular for . "IT administrators should have had the ability to granularly and selectively deploy this from day one, and the conflicts with System Management Server in particular don't help there," he said.
Despite SP2's rocky debut, O'Grady said that on the balance the update is worth the trouble. "Given the recent spate of attacks and problems, this update - as painful as it has been - is a necessary evil."