Windows optimize

Official support is ending so why are you still running Windows XP SP2?

Greg Shultz provides more details on the looming official support deadline and what it will mean to Microsoft Windows XP SP2 users.

As you probably know, a lot of folks chose to continue running Microsoft Windows XP after Windows Vista came out because it was such a problematic operating system. As such, those folks simply refused to upgrade. Many people and organizations are still running Windows XP and waiting to see what happens as Windows 7 approaches its first Service Pack.

While that attitude is not surprising in and of itself, what is surprising is that a very large number of home users and organizations are still running the SP2 version of the operating system, even though SP3 has been available for over two years.

Reasons for continuing to use the SP2 version and purposefully avoiding SP3 range from perceived compatibility problems to the misconceptions that SP3 didn't offer anything new to that fact that because SP2 was a very much hyped security packed version that it was somehow superior to its successor. Whatever the reason, those folks really must wake up and smell the coffee soon because in about two weeks official support for Windows XP SP2 will end.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll provide more details on the looming deadline and what it will mean to Windows XP SP2 users. As I do, I'll examine how this SP2 phenomenon occurred.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

What made SP2 so special?

Let's begin with a look back at what made SP2 so special in the first place. As you may remember, soon after Windows XP launched in August 2001 it quickly became a very popular operating system with millions of users due to its advanced features and capabilities as well as its stability. Well, it wasn't long before hackers and other evildoers began targeting Windows XP.

With its flagship operating system under attack from both hackers and users decrying the operating system's lack of built-in security features, Microsoft launched its Trustworthy Computing initiative in order to harden the operating system. This initiative's key pillars were identified as

  • Security
  • Privacy
  • Reliability
  • Business Integrity

Of course, security had always been important, but it had to become an even bigger priority if the company was going to weather the storm. The Trustworthy Computing initiative was such a big deal that on January 5, 2002, Bill Gates sent out an e-mail message to everyone at Microsoft outlining the new plan. (If you are interested, deep within its archive, Wired News has a copy of the now infamous Trustworthy Computing e-mail message.)

The first real culmination of this ongoing security effort came out in August 2004 in the guise of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. The focal point of SP2 was the new Windows Security Center, which provided a general overview of security on the system, including monitoring support for third-party antivirus software, a place to keep tabs on updates from Windows Update, and the newly designed and renamed Windows Firewall that was enabled by default. There were many other new and improved security features in SP2, such as support for hardware DEP (Data Execution Prevention), WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption capability for wireless connections, and a pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer 6, just to mention a few.

(As a side note, SP2 also marked the introduction of a generic splash screen seen at boot up. Prior to SP2, each XP edition's splash screen had a subtitle and different color progress bars. See Dinosaur Sightings: Windows splash screens from 1.01 to 7.)

What made SP3 undesirable?

By the time that Microsoft released Windows XP Service Pack 3 to the general public, in July 2008, SP2 had already been around for almost four years and was tried and true. It provided the necessary security, and it just worked. So many people just weren't ready to potentially jeopardize their secure operating system with a new service pack and decided to just wait and see how it played out.

It didn't help that SP3 didn't really bring anything new or exciting to the table. In fact, Microsoft unceremoniously described SP3 in the official Overview of Windows XP Service Pack 3 whitepaper as:

Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) includes all previously released Windows XP updates, including security updates and hotfixes. It also includes select out-of-band releases, and a small number of new enhancements, which do not significantly change customers' experience with the operating system.

It also didn't help that SP3 arrived on the scene while Vista was still falling all over itself and making a mockery of the Windows operating system.

There were some compatibility problems with SP3 when it first launched. However, chances are good that any problems that existed two years ago have been cleared up by now. Seriously, think about it. When was the last time that you heard someone dissing Windows XP SP3?

What does it mean that SP2 is no longer supported?

Well, it actually means two things. First, it means that on July 13. Microsoft will cease providing security updates and patches designed specifically for Windows XP SP2. Second, it means that hackers and evildoers worldwide will begin releasing an inordinate amount of malware aimed directly at computers running Windows XP SP2. And, there will be no defense whatsoever.

Those malevolent folks know, without a doubt, that there will be thousands of vulnerable Windows XP SP2 systems out there just ripe for the picking. In fact, they are counting on it, because they know that people and organizations who have held on to SP2 for this long are definitely procrastinators.

Not sure what service pack you have?

If you are not exactly sure which service pack is installed on your Windows XP system, you can find out real quick. Just press [Windows]+R to open the Run dialog box and type winver in the Open box. Then, click OK. When you do, the About Windows dialog box will appear and will clearly identify the installed service pack. If you see Service Pack 2, as shown in Figure A, then you need to get a move on.

Figure A

The About Windows dialog box will clearly identify the installed service pack.

What should you do?

Of course, Microsoft recommends that you move to Windows 7, which you really should consider. However, if you happen to be running Windows XP SP2 and are not ready to make that move just yet, the first thing you should do is make a full backup or disk image of your system. As soon as you complete that operation, immediately visit the Windows Update site so that you can download and install SP3. Support for Windows XP Service Pack 3 will continue through April 2014. (By that date, the Windows XP operating system will be almost 13 years old.)

You can find information about installing Service Pack 3 at these locations:

64-bit is a special case

The 64-bit version of Windows XP is a special case. Since there never was a Service Pack 3 for the 64-bit version of the operating system, users of Windows XP 64-bit with SP2 have nothing to worry about. Support and regular updates for Windows XP SP2 64-bit will continue until April 8, 2014.

What's your take?

Are you or your organization still using Windows XP SP2? Do you plan on going to SP3 or moving to Windows 7? Have you recently upgraded from SP2 to SP3? If so, what has been your experience?

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

88 comments
hp_maine
hp_maine

When the time comes to install SP3, the right approach is to first make a disk image backup of the partition containing Windows. Anything else is risky. No doubt SP3 was designed to be un-installed should the need arise, but putting your full faith in this would be a mistake. Also, the installation process is going to exercise the heck out of the file system, so I suggest first running a thorough Check Disk. If you have any other hard disk diagnostic utilities, it would be good to insure the hard disk is healthy before installing the service pack. And a defrag can't hurt. At the very least, make a restore point.

HackerAce
HackerAce

If you are still running XP SP2 you are probably not patching your other applications as well. This being the case you are already infected with some sort of backdoor or bot. No sense worrying about security patches in the future. :)

wellcraft19
wellcraft19

I have a number of XP licenses / disks with SP1 that I still plan to install. This article, nor Microsoft, tells me if I can still get SP2 (or 3) on such an install. XP is "slim" and runs great for certain application, otherwise I have upgraded most to Win7 - but for much, XP is still "good enough" (and more).

alvalongo
alvalongo

You must realize that markets and organizations outside United States of America are diferrent specially about IT investments. In the company where I work, (i'm in Colombia (south America)), we still use Windows XP+SP3: It's stable and works very well with Oracle clients. Some computers had been upgraded to Windows 7 but people complain about compatibility and lost of productivity. Personally I still running Windows 2000+SP4 in my home.

ang2006
ang2006

I use a desktop 7 and a laptop XP-------the XP has a good bit more to load on start up yet starts up much faster. It is also faster in every other area such as program openings, installs etc. The 7 is more powerful in the RAM department yet slower over all and not marginally either.

reisen55
reisen55

I have client budgets to consider and while Windows 7 seems proven and reliable, I have to perform considerable application testing to justify the cost parameters. Particularly as XP is NOT an Upgrade to Windows 7. ONLY the misery of Vista gives you that price advantage.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

I have become.... disenchanted with Microsuck products and figure why not get a good working OS for free and not have to put up with Microsuck jerking around it's users, me, with all these product roadmaps that just make more work for me.

ryost1
ryost1

I can't afford to upgrade not enough money yet!!!!

jrtech
jrtech

If you happen to be running certificate based authentication in your environment there are a couple of changes you will need to make after upgrading to SP3: 1st - Start the Wired AutoConfig service (computers will not be able to reconnect to the network if this service is not running) 2nd - If using computer based certificate authentication rather than user based certificates there are changes that need to be made to network.xml file. w/o both of these changes you may need to hand visit client computers as they will not be able to establish a network connection. Another issue I've encountered is the large range in install time for SP3 based on type of hw/sw config (30mins-5hrs)

bodeen657
bodeen657

Not that its happened to me..i'm an Xp sp3 user but for those who want to stay on Xp sp2 knowing they can't get further updates and such..in the event they reinstall xp sp2 from their old discs..will microsoft deny them re-activation? I've had ME which ran beautifully.. XP sp1, sp2 and now have sp3 with with i havn't had any problems...From my experience if u slipstream a service pack..u will get a cleaner install and u get the problems when u do the windows update..what i would suggest as mentioned in several articles on this subject is download the service pack, then manually install..most times it will install without any problems not unless ur running a system that can't be updated because back in the day when people couldn't afford fancy computers, they would get the basic bottom of the line computers which couldn't be updated because of the system configuration and hardware. Installing service packs from windows update would take out some of ur drivers which u had to reinstall and for a lot of users..many operate systems that came with the drivers so they ask..how do i install drivers?...so they were confused as how to proceed. People stay with what works for them..as the old adage says..why fix something that works..true further down the road they may have to update because MS might shut down an OS but til that time people like to stay with what is most comfortable with them and is working with their software and again computer hardware...remember back when 128 mb's of ram was good, then people went up to 256, they thought they were in a computer paradise.. Changes bring updates..updates brings new OS's and new OS's means newer and faster computers which do the same work as its slower predecessors....would i buy a new system if it only worked a couple seconds faster..? Probably not.

PromptJock
PromptJock

...** NOW ** is the time to dump Windows and move to Ubuntu or KUbuntu Linux! True, you may have to find open-source alternatives to the Windows apps you're familiar with AND you'll have to get a "Linux for Dummies" book to learn about the "Linux quirks". In the long run, however, you'll have a more secure and robust system overall. And the beautiful thing is this: the cost is, essentially, ** FREE **! all you need is a fast internet connection and the willingness to research and download what you need!

Pheniks
Pheniks

The organization I work for uses relatively old hardware at the desktop. I have noticed significant performance issues when SP3 is installed. Microsoft seems in many cases to suffer greatly from the bloatware syndrome as they issue service packs for their operating systems. Of course, I noticed similar issues with SP2 until I slipstreamed it into the install and installed clean. Perhaps I need to test with a slipstream of SP3 instead of installing over SP2. What a nightmare! As my organization replaces desktops we will either go with Windows 7 Ultimate or Mac.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

First, the primary reasons for an individual is still using SP2 is either because they have a pirated copy or they didn't know about SP3 [they may have killed AU's advice to install it. As for a company, some are holding off because of an issue with a current app [how long does it take to release an updated version?] and in very few cases - incompitence. A few also may have installation issues - but MS offered free support for a while. I think just about every IT pro knows that this day was coming. They know that they can't get any updates after that date. Now, not only do you have to install SP3 but re-install a bunch of updates that had SP3 versions different than SP2.

gloverf
gloverf

Been there, did that, undid that. Laptop became unstable; wireless card had to be uninstalled and reinstalled with each boot. My plan is to ride SP2 until it drops and then move to Apple.

thilton19
thilton19

I've tried upgrading to SP3 for XP a couple times, each having its issues afterward, to which I quickly removed SP3. The only time I've had good success with SP3 is when I was doing a complete OS installation from scratch and installed SP3 before installing any other apps. Then, it seems to be just fine. Will i be upgrading? Doubt it, at least not on any key production systems. Perhaps on a backup laptop I'll do it and see how it goes. still I'll download it first, then install rather than running it from the Live Update.

garyleroy
garyleroy

Unless they have no internet connection (in which case there's no real need to upgrade), the machines running SP2 or earlier will probably become so unusable they'll be replaced. I've run across many non-savvy computer users who just don't update as a matter of habit...as if they're being "sold" something or nagged by a telemarketer for something they don't need. Many run expired antivirus programs for the same reason, so eventually the machine will become unusable due to malware and they'll just buy a new one. There are always some who find the old is better than the new, especially when the upgrade is sooner than they think it should be; Windows Millennium was a victim of this...had many new features and capabilities, but people weren't ready and began worshiping Win98 as "rock solid, the best", when in reality the only reason Millennium was troublesome was that it was in a time of many changes, both to full-time connectivity and to attacks from malware and viruses. While that was an extreme case, any time something new comes along there will be those who find the "old" better. If a computer is already compromised with malware or other issues, the upgrades can be disastrous, and instead of realizing they have problems internally, they blame the upgrade and put it off. If they just sold their upgrades, like Apple does, instead of giving them away, people might be lapping them up and raving about the improvement; but I'm grateful they don't do that, and provide us with many years of needed protection and other changes.

rcfoulk
rcfoulk

We have XP SP3 installed on all machines (about 75) and it and Office 2003 as well as our SOL apps work just fine. Security appliances and software were added in the past to secure the network so we're as secure as one can hope, users get work done without issue or retraining and we keep lots of dollars in our pocket for really critical needs. The OS and software are tools. If they do what you need them to do without getting in the way then there's no compelling need to spend money to buy a new tool regardless of what MS or the technical press that always needs something new to discuss may assert.

geofer50
geofer50

Yeah just follow Microsoft to the slaughter house like sheep. Microsoft should make their products better so they don't have to put out new products or updates every time one turns around. OOPS! I just realized that would cut into their profits by having a good stable product out there. I am sorry to Microsoft employees as I did not want to put anyone out of a job making bum software!

deco5003
deco5003

The Thing is XP SP3 consume a lot more Ram than Sp2 and other thing is with sp3 is more difficult for hackers to activate the product. I recently abandoned XP for Vista. And I feel that it performs even better than xp sp3

carl
carl

Would help if sp3 didn't endlessly reboot

willis0966
willis0966

It's funny ain't it? Everyone may thank IBM & Bill Gates for making the personal computer what it is today. Microsoft was essentially started with Bill's development of DOS. It worked. He made it "easier" to use by developing a GUI. It evolved over the years to what it is today. Each version (with the exception of Vista) was supposed to be better than the previous version. (How else do you keep 90,000 plus employees busy?) It is what it is. XP works. The software I have installed works. 7 doesn't work with all the versions of the applications I have installed. I ain't upgrading all the software I have "just" so I can upgrade my operating system. Besides, it takes years for the application developers to get the bugs out of their software to run under a new operating system. Heck, I recently installed DOS 6.21 on an old computer to run software (written in BASIC) that was developed in 1988. It still works fine. The person I did this for has been operating on a system that is 15 years old that has been a little stubborn during the boot sequence - he wanted a "backup" system - just in case... He might be cheap but it still works - and, he doesn't have to "upgrade" to Windows 95...

wellcraft19
wellcraft19

Many of us might have a number of unused WinXP licenses laying around - licenses that we plan to use in various applications from basic testing to small footprint installs in PCs in basement, kitchen, shop, etc. That does not mean we are running upatched installs of Win XP, just that when we do a fresh install, it'll be WinXP SP1. Will that still be able to be "updated" via Windows Update - or does MSFT require you to start out with SP2?

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

Ang2006 Your Windows 7 desktop may have a very slow processor while your XP Laptop may have the biggest and best. Are your measurements of "faster" your opinion? I also have a Win 7 desktop, a Win XP desktop, a Win Vista laptop, and a Win Vista desktop. All three desktops are powerhouses, the laptop is a wimp. However, each has its place and I never bother to compare. They are what they are, I bought them, they are my tools and I use them for their intended purpose. As a cabinetmaker, I learned early on to use the right tool. Same goes for computers. By the way, all systems have all "critical" and "optional" updates installed.

Ocie3
Ocie3

Google (Scroogle) the search term: microsoft.com:Windows XP Upgrade and take your pick. On the following page, Microsoft has the statement: ".... All Windows XP and Windows Vista editions qualify for a Windows 7 upgrade." and lists the single-license retail prices: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/buy/default.aspx Microsoft advises that it is better to buy a new computer with Windows 7 installed. The following pages provide information about upgrading from Windows XP to 7 but the cost is not disclosed: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/help/upgrading-from-windows-xp-to-windows-7 http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/upgrade?os=other Basically, you perform a "Custom Installation" of the Windows 7 upgrade package, "which doesn't keep any of your files, programs, or settings."

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Whatever happened to microsoft quarantine? Three years minimum in my book.

Ocie3
Ocie3

that I encountered while attempting to adopt Linux was that no one wanted to answer any questions about how to use the OS, or how to resolve hardware-related problems, or about which software was available, etc., [i]unless and until[/i] I was willing and able to pay them for the answers. Each company that creates each of the respective enduring distributions wants significant $um$ to "support" the usage of their "free" distribution, and that "model" also applies to most of the "free" Linux software whenever any is available at all. Of course, my experience is dated, but I doubt that much has changed during the past six or seven years.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Except for the time it takes, the upgrade from XP SP2 to XP SP3 is free. That is, of course, assuming you have a legitimate copy of XP. Edit: Added legit disclaimer

santeewelding
santeewelding

Given all your wealth of gold and experience?

kama410
kama410

In my experience there seems to be a lot more information available on the web regarding linux, but a lot of that information is not exactly high quality developer produced documentation. There are huge forums available for every distro that I have looked at, but a lot of what is posted is just problems that have not been solved. Linux is still quite the do-it-yourself OS in most cases. That said I have to make note of the over 1,000 page manual on FreeBSD that I DL'd from their documentation section when I was first starting out. It is extremely high quality and took me from knowing nothing at all to getting a good start. (I could, and would have, gone farther with it except that FreeBSD can't run as a Dom0 for Xen. I honestly prefer FreeBSD to Linux except for that.) There are a lot of really good places to get help with Linux on the web, but it takes time to find them. A lot of time. There are so many people who are just jumping on the Linux band-wagon because there are so many dis-affected windows users out there and it looks like Linux could be 'the next big thing' in computing. These people are not the dedicated Linux old guard. Many of them are just skimming the surface to drive whatever traffic they can to their ad-laden web sites. Yes, the operating system is freely available. You pay for support. To my mind that seems a more honest way of doing business. Download the OS, try it out, see if you're at all interested without getting locked in because you have already dumped a huge part of your budget into something and now you have no other option than to continue on that path. I haven't tried the paid support and so I don't know about the quality of the support you get. I would really like to hear from someone who has payed for support from say, Redhat and can compare it with the support they have gotten from MS. One thing I can tell you is that Linux requires more planning ahead than Windows. You have to think more before you buy some new piece of hardware (at least for now, until HW manufacturers start to realize that there really are a lot more people who are sick of MS). One more thing is that basic physics proves beyond question that there is no such thing as a free lunch. My choice has been to pay with a lot of study and to learn to do things for myself. I'm not saying that is the best option, just that it is the best option for me. If you have the money to pay someone else to support you, that's great. Even if you just find some local high school kid who has installed Linux and messed around with it a bit it would still be worth what you are paying him just to get it up and running.

DJMorais
DJMorais

Linux is a great server plastform, but for the desktop it's a royal pain and just isn't a viable solution in that market yet. There are some that can configure and make Linux hum in their sleep and I admire that, but for most it's just painful. I don't have that kind of time...

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

The time to remove serious malware infestations that can be prevented with SP3, and the 30 some additional critical updates applied is generally more than doing the update. I find that a large impediment is the need to install additional RAM at the cost of $20 to $30. Yesterday, I added RAM to one 7 year old computer with only 256K RAM and one with 512K.

kama410
kama410

I never expected to see a Watership Down reference anywhere, much less here.

seanferd
seanferd

Of course, it was a tool intended for mass migration, but it is the only one you can use to semi-automate migration from XP. Not sure about earlier versions of USMT, I'd have to check further. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd883247(WS.10).aspx It really isn't so bad, though, to reinstall apps and migrate settings and user files by hand, if you have any sort of feel for working with operating systems. I mean, heck, I did it. ;)

Ocie3
Ocie3

That is the User System Migration Tool, ver. 4, right?? Can you use it to export Windows XP configurations and import them into Windows 7?

seanferd
seanferd

at which XP did not qualify for a Win 7 upgrade (or maybe I remember it vaguely, since you mention it, but that could be my mind retconning). Yes, I do know that this "upgrade" is only in the sense of qualification, not installation. Been there, done that, had to keep re-explaining it.:p This is what I took reisen to mean by upgrade. "No upgrade install." USMT4 can be fairly handy for this, although I've done a migration entirely by hand post-install (since the entire XP installation gets backed up). Even got freaking Goldmine to work with the old configuration and DBs.

Ocie3
Ocie3

on the following page, Microsoft has the statement: ".... All Windows XP and Windows Vista editions qualify for a Windows 7 upgrade." See: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/buy/default.aspx Prices start at $120 for "Home Premium". That sounds like you're getting more than you would if it was called "Home Edition", doesn't it?? Microsoft advises that it is better to buy a new computer with Windows 7 already installed (or one that comes with the OEM installation disc, for which you may pay more, IMX). The following page provides some information about upgrading from Windows XP to 7 but the cost is not disclosed: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/upgrade?os=other Basically, you perform a "Custom Installation" of the Windows 7 upgrade package, "which doesn't keep any of your files, programs, or settings."

seanferd
seanferd

Personally, I won't even bother with XP with less than a Gig of RAM any more, so I would have to agree. 512 Mb was OK, but not really enough to run the apps I wanted along with an AV. From your previous post, I was imagining MS was suggesting that you buy a relatively expensive stick of RAM for new systems to raise them somewhere above a Gb or two. :0 Which would be insane. ;)

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

The additional RAM requirement comes from the experience of servicing a couple of hundred computers for our computer club. Malware removal and disk cleanup (2GB removed) are executed first, MSCONFIG is then used to shut down most processes. The slow progress is not a cost factor. Our House Call folks receive no salary, only a flat $20 donation to the club, so there is no hurry. On Friday, when a club member's system with 256KB RAM and 45GB unused hard drive was cleaned (no malware found), I started the installation of SP3 from my USB Flash Drive. I left shortly after noon, with the request that the club member call when it completed, knowing full well that there were probably 30 or more updates. I received the completed call about 5:15 p.m. I returned and started the followup update, sure enough, 28 Windows updates and 18 non critical updates. I was called just before 9:00 p.m. with the news that the update had completed. I returned Saturday morning and started a follow up update.

seanferd
seanferd

I see that XP still has a minimum 64 Mb and recommended 128 Mb requirement. Throw on an antivirus, though, and I would suspect a bit more is needed, especially if you are running anything else. 64 Mb! I wouldn't even run Win 98 on that, but so be it. I still have found no mention of increased RAM requirements for SP3. I wonder if there was some confusion between "disk space" and RAM.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Ah, yes. There are those. In for a penny, though...

Ocie3
Ocie3

:-) But I probably spend too much time participating and I need to spend more time and effort on some other pressing matters. For the most part, though, I will still be using the computer.

santeewelding
santeewelding

By means of email alerts only, or, do you have the time to cruise the open forum?

Ocie3
Ocie3

it was offered with 256 MB of DRAM but I paid extra to increase it to 512 MB. I never noticed any performance issues, but I wasn't doing much that taxed the overall system resources. Before I started running a climate prediction model, though, I upgraded to 2 GB of DRAM (the max for a 32-bit system). But probably an increase to 1 GB would have sufficed. Even with the climate model running, the system had more than enough memory, and I think that only PKWare's PKZip actually used any of the second GB.

seanferd
seanferd

Where does the additional RAM requirement come from? I seiously can't imagine running XP on a system with 256K RAM in the first place - it doesn't even meet minimum requirements. 512K is bad enough, I've seen it.