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What to expect from Windows XP SP1

Those of you wondering what's in store for you with the release of Windows XP SP1 can wonder no more as we take a journey deep into Microsoft and uncover the secrets of Windows XP SP1.


By the time Service Pack 1 is released to the general public in August, it will have been almost ten months since Windows XP hit the market. This is a good sign, because it signifies that Windows XP was a fairly secure and stable operating system right out of the gate. Of course, none of us will ever forget the panic over the Universal Plug and Play issue that was poised to make XP a laughable foray at best. The threat never materialized, and XP has had almost a year of unparalleled success in the desktop computing environment.

From Microsoft's sales figures, it appears that IT pros want Windows XP. They also want a cumulative upgrade to their existing XP installations that corrects all of the identified issues and adds new functionality to an already robust product. While official information on Service Pack 1 is hard to come by, the following items appear in the Beta of SP1 and look to be certain inclusions in the final release later this summer.

Consent Decree compliance
Thanks to the lawsuits filed against Microsoft, you now have the ability to "hide" links to Microsoft middleware products such as Internet Explorer or Outlook Express and you can configure options of your choosing, such as Netscape Communicator or Eudora. If your computer is an OEM computer, you'll have four configuration options to choose from; if you have a non-OEM computer, you'll have three configuration options. Either way, you can access the new options by clicking Set Program Access And Defaults, which will be placed on your Start menu for you following the successful application of SP1 (Figure A).

Figure A
The new option: Set Program Access And Defaults


The Set Program Access And Defaults utility (Figure B) is actually a fourth page on the Add Or Remove Programs applet and can be accessed from there as well.

Figure B
Configuring middleware preferences, courtesy of the Department of Justice


Your configuration options are as follows:
  • Computer Manufacturer: If you bought your computer from an OEM, such as Gateway or Dell, you should see this option; all other computers will not have this option.
  • Microsoft Windows: Restores all Microsoft middleware applications to your Start menu.
  • Non-Microsoft: Hides all Microsoft middleware products and makes all installed third-party alternatives visible for use.
  • Custom: Allows you to pick and choose which middleware product you want to use for each group available.

USB 2.0 support
USB 1.x began to lose ground when Apple Computer introduced FireWire. While USB 1.x provided a relatively slow 12-Mbps top transfer speed, FireWire (IEEE 1394) offered a blazingly fast top transfer speed of 400 Mbps. Not to be outdone by Apple Computer, the engineers at Intel went back to work, and USB 2.0 was born. USB 2.0 is about 20 percent faster than FireWire, boasting a top transfer speed of 480 Mbps. The big advantage to USB 2.0 is that it's backwards compatible with USB 1.x, so you can mix and match USB 1.x and USB 2.0 devices on the same chain. Windows XP SP1 provides full software support for the USB 2.0 standard and all USB 2.0 devices. One caveat: If your computer doesn't support USB 2.0, you're still out of luck. Also, plugging a USB 2.0-compliant device into an older USB 1.x connector won't yield 480-Mbps performance—you'll simply be stuck in slow 12-Mbps land.

Windows .NET Messenger 4.7
One of my biggest complaints about Windows .NET Messenger 4.5 and higher is the advertising you're subjected to when using Instant Messaging. To circumvent this problem (and also to gain some other nifty features), I stopped using Windows .NET Messenger completely and moved to the Trillian client from Cerulean Studios. Evidently, the group in Redmond heard our complaints over the advertising in Windows .NET Messenger (Figure C) and removed it in Windows .NET Messenger 4.7, which ships with SP1. What a relief.

Figure C
Advertising courtesy of Microsoft, available to you at no extra charge


The improved Messenger 4.7 has some code revisions that should shore up security weaknesses that have been identified since XP was released. Also, Messenger 4.7 can be "hidden" from view by using the Windows Components Wizard, a capability that previously only existed for Internet Explorer. For those of you who want to download Windows .NET Messenger for distribution, it's available from the Messenger Web site.

Mira (Windows CE for Smart Displays)
Mira, recently renamed to Windows CE for Smart Displays, has garnered a lot of attention lately. Mira is a technology developed jointly by Microsoft and several leading PC and peripheral manufacturers. A Mira-enabled device running Windows CE .NET will connect via the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) over an 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless connection to your existing Windows XP Professional SP1 computer. Yes, that's right—Mira uses RDP, which is still (much to the chagrin of many people) only available in Windows XP Professional.

Mira-enabled devices aren't full-featured computers and won't work without connectivity to the Windows XP Professional SP1 computer (either desktop or portable). Mira-enabled devices are ideal for travel around the office for tasks that don't require heavy keyboard input, such as Web surfing. The actual Mira-enabled devices should be ready in time for the next Christmas shopping season and will be ready to interact with your Windows XP Professional SP1 computer right out of the box.

Microsoft Product Activation
Product Activation has received two minor updates in SP1, neither of which will have any impact on those who are legitimately using Windows XP. The first change Microsoft enacted was to render the bulk of pirated copies of XP unresponsive to an upgrade attempt to SP1. It was determined that most of the illegal copies of XP were tied to a single Volume License Key (VLK), which has been deactivated. Copies of XP and this VLK could often be had for less than $3.00 U.S. from many sources, most of which were located in East Asia. Any copies of XP that were installed with this pirated VLK will not be upgradeable to SP1 and will also no longer be able to make use of the Windows Update Web site. So, if you have an installation of Windows XP running on the "FCKGW" VLK, you're going to be out of luck.

The second change to Product Activation is actually a benefit to the rest of us. You'll have a three-day grace period if you install Windows XP using the same Product Key on two different systems. In the past, no grace period was available, and an immediate phone call to Microsoft was required to activate the second installation. This change will prove to be a great benefit to those users whose systems experience a nonrecoverable disaster and who face a reinstallation of Windows XP onto a new computer.

IPv6 support
It's estimated that over 75 percent of the available IPv4 addresses have been assigned already, so it should come as no surprise that sometime in the near future we're going to run out of IP addresses using the familiar 192.168.0.154-style notation. Under the IPv4 addressing system, there are 232 or 4,294,967,296 possible IP addresses, of which a small number are reserved for private networks and cannot be routed in the Internet. Since most organizations get around the IPv4 crunch by using technologies such as NAT and PAT, the need for a new system is prevented—almost. Eventually, all publicly assignable numbers will be gone, and we'll need the recently developed IPv6 addressing system.

The IPv6 addressing system uses a 128-bit number to represent a unique IP address. Using 128 bits provides 2128 or (3.4x1038) possible addresses. All new network infrastructure hardware being built should be able to handle both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic, even though the Internet isn't ready for IPv6. In addition to granting us a seemingly infinite number of available IP addresses, IPv6 also frees us from IP classes and the CIDR (Classless Inter-Domain Routing) usage. The three commonly used Private IP ranges (10.0.0.0/8, 172.16.0.0/12, and 192.168.0.0/16) are all replaced by one site-local address range (FEC0::/48). All of the other special IP addresses, such as the broadcast address and the loopback address, have equivalents in IPv6. The place to keep up to date on the development and implementation of IPv6 is the official IPv6 site.

Windows XP shipped with a developer’s version of the IPv6 protocol; SP1 provides full IPv6 support native to the operating system (Windows .NET Server also provides full IPv6 capability right out of the box). You can install IPv6 from the Properties page of your Local Area Connection, just as you would install any other protocol, client, or service.

Freestyle
Freestyle takes XP out of the desktop PC and puts it into your entertainment center. While Freestyle may sound similar to WebTV, nothing could be further from the truth. Freestyle aims to use the multimedia-rich capabilities of XP to enhance your viewing and listening experience by providing a simple, graphical interface that can be controlled with a remote control instead of a keyboard and a mouse. Sounds neat, right? Keep in mind that Freestyle is another technology that requires a Windows XP SP1 computer and special hardware, such as a TV tuner card, IR receiver, and a special remote control to make it all work. The still-under-development Freestyle Start page is shown in Figure D.

Figure D
Freestyle devices, like Mira devices, are still under development. Expect to see and hear more about Freestyle in the coming months.


Security fixes and application improvements
A quick visit to the Add Or Remove Programs applet (Figure E) on one of my Windows XP Professional (non-SP1) machines reveals that quite a few hot fixes and patches have been applied.

Figure E


While the exact number of fixes contained in SP1 is a tightly guarded secret in Redmond, I can be reasonably sure that it contains at least 300 to 600. A short list of hot fixes can be found (at least until SP1 is finally released to the public) at the Microsoft Support Web site. As of the writing of this article, this list had just over 200 items on it, with new items being added every couple of days. Some of the more interesting fixes that are part of SP1 are:
  • Q307274 - Windows XP Stops Responding (Hangs) During Windows Shutdown
  • Q307316 - Volume License Product ID Is Revealed During the Sysprep.exe Mini-Setup Wizard
  • Q307754 - Cannot Print from a Window XP-Based Computer to a Shared Printer on a Windows 95-Based Computer
  • Q307869 - Files and Settings Are Not Transferred When You Use the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard
  • Q308381 - Windows XP Application Compatibility Update (October 25, 2001)
  • Q309521 - Windows XP Update Package, October 25, 2001
  • Q310436 - Cannot Play a DVD in Windows XP
  • Q310772 - PCMCIA Device May Not Work in Windows XP
  • Q310869 - STOP Error When You Start Windows After You Connect a Scanner
  • Q311542 - Devices May Not Power Up Properly When Resuming From Standby
  • Q311804 - Your Computer Hangs When You Log On to a Terminal Services Session
  • Q311822 – Your Computer May Hang If You Unexpectedly Remove a PC Card Storage Device While the Computer Is in Standby
  • Q311889 - Cannot Establish a Remote Assistance Connection
  • Q312368 - Data Loss May Occur After Reinstalling, Repairing, or Upgrading Windows XP
  • Q312505 - OpenGL-Based Program Causes Access Violation in Windows XP

SP1 is a comprehensive service pack
Windows XP SP1 is a huge package (over 120 MB in its full installable form) that is worthy of a serious look. The demand for SP1 from major OEMs has prompted Microsoft to move its release up to August (rumor has it that the original release was to be later in the Fall). Look for Service Pack 1 in August, available for download from the Service Pack Web site and the Windows Update Web site.

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