Service Pack 2 is supposed to make your Windows XP
workstation more stable and secure, but as we’ve learned by now, it can also break things. If
and when SP2 causes problems on one of your XP workstations, beyond cursing
Microsoft, you need a strategy to remove it. Here are six strategies you can
use to remove SP2 from your Windows XP workstations.

Getting ahead of the game

Because SP2 replaces just about every component of Windows
XP, removing it is almost as big of a deal as installing it. You can save
yourself a lot of headaches during the removal process by installing the service
pack properly to begin with.

Microsoft has helped the recovery process by forcing the SP2
Setup program to back up your system files before applying the service pack. Of
course, this is going to be difficult on a system that’s already low on disk
space. Storing the system backups requires almost 1 GB of free space on your
workstation before applying the service pack. Many older workstations may not
have this much free space, and you may be tempted to do the installation without
those backups. You can do so by manually running the Update utility with the /n
switch. However, this will complicate recovery.

Likewise, to be able to properly recover from a failed SP2
installation, you may want to ensure that you’ve enabled System Restore. System
Restore is a Windows XP feature that allows you to quickly restore system
settings to a predetermined point in the past. Although not a replacement for a
full backup, System Restore can help you dig yourself out of problems. The main
drawback is that it too can consume quite a bit of hard drive space on a
workstation and can enact a performance hit on workstations that are close to
Windows XP’s minimum requirement. Therefore, you may have been tempted to
disable it. You should restore System Restore if possible, and set a restore
point before applying the service pack.

Although it’s not common on workstations, you may want to
make sure you have a full system backup before applying SP2. This is especially
important on workstations that contain critical data for your business. To be
100-percent sure you can recover from a failed SP2 installation, back up the
workstation first or create an image using Ghost or a similar program. This latter
choice may be your only hope of reversing SP2 if you didn’t allow Setup to
automatically create a backup before applying the service pack.

Option 1: Add/remove programs

Just like most other Windows applications and Microsoft hot
fixes, Windows XP Service Pack 2 appears in the Add Or Remove Programs Control
Panel Applet. Click Start | Control Panel to launch Control Panel. When the
Control Panel window appears, double-click Add Or Remove Programs.

Scroll down the list of programs in the Currently Installed
Programs list box until you see Windows XP Service Pack 2. Select it. If the
SP2 Setup program backed up files on your workstation, you’ll see the Remove
button. If the Remove button doesn’t appear or Windows XP Service Pack 2 isn’t
in the list of Currently Installed Programs, this tip won’t work.

Click Remove. This will launch the Windows XP Service Pack 2
Removal Wizard. After the first splash screen appears and you click Next,
there’s nothing left to do but wait. The wizard will remove all of the
components for Service Pack 2. When the wizard is finished, it will prompt you
to reboot your workstation.

Option 2: Uninstall the service pack

The second way you can uninstall SP2 is by using SP2’s
built-in removal utility. You can start the utility either from a command line
or from Explorer. You can also execute the program remotely via logon script or
group policy if you know the precise location of the backup files.

By default, a Service Pack Setup utility will copy backup
files to the $NtServicePackUninstall$ folder on in the Windows directory of
your workstation’s boot disk. However, as with most Microsoft things, it’s not
always that simple. If you’ve already installed Service Pack 1 or 1a on your
workstation, you may unknowingly already have at least one of these folders on
your workstations.

Start Windows Explorer and configure it to View Hidden
Files. Then, navigate through your boot partition until you get to the $NtServicePackUninstall$
folder, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Find the $NtServicePackUninstall$ folder.

Go into the folder and then into the SPUNINST folder beneath
that. Execute the SPUNINST program to start the Windows XP Service Pack 2
Removal Wizard. From there, just let the wizard remove the service pack, and
you’re done.

Option 3: Use System Restore

Another option for removing SP2 is to use Windows XP’s
System Restore feature. System Restore preserves file and registry settings for
Windows XP in an area that’s quarantined from access by most other programs.
During the service pack installation, Setup will set a restore point in System
Restore from which you can recover in case SP2 doesn’t work.

To restore settings using System Restore, click All Programs
| Accessories | System Tools | System Restore. When the System Restore window
appears, make sure that Restore My Computer is selected and click Next. On the following
screen, select a restore point from any date, preferably the most recent prior
to the installation of the service pack, and click Next. System Restore will
then remove SP2 from your system.

Option 4: Use the Recovery console

You can also remove SP2 by using XP’s Recovery console.
Doing so will require you to have your Windows XP CD-ROM handy. Restart the
workstation with the CD in the drive, and boot the CD as if you were going to
reinstall Windows XP.

Pay attention, however, and don’t start the reinstallation
process. When the Welcome To Setup screen appears, press R to start the
Recovery console. You’ll then see what appears to be an old-fashioned DOS menu

Here you select the operating system you want to boot. There
may be several options on this menu depending on how many operating systems you
want. Enter your Windows XP boot path, which is normally C:\Windows. Then enter
the Administrator password for your workstation. If you don’t have this
password, you’re stuck.

When the C:\WINDOWS> prompt appears, type cd $ntservicepackuninstall$ and then
press [Enter]. Next, type cd spuninst
and press [Enter]. When you see the prompt C:\WINDOWS\$ntservicepackuninstall$\spuninst>, type batch spuninst.txt and press [Enter]. You’ll
see a string of errors and file copy confirmation messages appear on the

Don’t worry about the errors that appear on-screen unless
they all come up as “Access Denied.” If you see nothing but “Access
Denied,” chances are there’s a problem in the spuninst.txt file. This can
occur if the boot drive letter for Windows XP is different from the boot drive
letter for the Recovery console. All you have to do is boot Windows XP as
normal and then do a Search And Replace in the spuninst.txt file to substitute
the Windows XP boot drive letter with the boot drive letter used by the
Recovery console. After the batch process completes, type exit and press [Enter] to restart your workstation.

As a last resort

Out of all the options listed in this article, options 5 and
6 are the least desirable. That’s because these options will cause you to lose
data or at the very least have to do some reconfiguration of your XP
workstations. You should use these options only as a last resort.

Option 5: Reinstall Windows XP

This option is exactly what it says. Use your original
Windows XP CD-ROM to reinstall Windows on the workstation. You can use either the
Repair or Install option when the workstation boots from the CD. Be very careful
not to delete the Windows XP partition or format the partition. Doing so will
cause you to lose data on the drive.

If you merely reinstall Windows XP, application data should
be preserved on the workstation. You’ll probably have to reinstall applications,
but at least valuable user data will still be intact and accessible once you’ve
reconfigured XP.

Option 6: Restore from a backup or image

You may not actually go to the trouble of backing up
workstations on a regular basis, but if you do, this option will help you back
out Windows XP. Even if you only keep disk images by using a program such as Symantec
Ghost, you can quickly reverse the effects of the service pack by restoring
from your backup or image.

Naturally, restoring from some traditional backup program is
the best option. This will at least keep user data intact. The restore program
will merely overwrite information you’ve backed up. Depending on when the
backup was done, you may need to reinstall applications or reconfigure Windows
XP in case registry settings in the backup don’t reflect current workstation

Your extreme last resort should be restoring from an
original disk image. This option will completely overwrite the workstation’s
hard drive, removing Windows XP Service Pack 2 but obliterating any user data
on the drive as well.