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Microsoft's Upcoming Freebee

What you should know about Service Pack 2.

by Paul Moore
August 13, 2004

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Microsoft’s upcoming freebee_Romi- It used to be another year, another version of windows. Every few years we’d all line up and shell out anywhere from fifty to a hundred bucks to get the latest and greatest from software giant Microsoft. The problem is that we might find out it was the latest but not the greatest. 98% of home computers use one form or another of Windows. Most of us who have bought systems within the last few years have been blessed with its latest incarnation, Windows XP. So where’s the update? It’s been well over two years now since XP with its “new” look has blessed our desktops, so where is the sequel? Well it’s not as far off as you think, and to the blessing of those of us on a budget, it comes at the wonderful retail price of absolutely free.

Windows XP has a firm advantage over its predecessors as it can receive significant updates in form of a service pack, a free downloadable update from Microsoft. Until XP, this feature was only found in the big business section which included such great hits as Windows NT and Windows 2000. Most computers shipped within the last year have included Microsoft’s first service pack for XP. In all reality this service pack brought very little to the table, and worst of all did little if nothing to stop the influx of computer hackers and malicious software that has haunted XP since its release. Microsoft took note and started work almost immediately on Service Pack 2.

Service Pack 2 is a big leap in terms of what it does compared to Service Pack 1. For a time the software giant was even considering releasing it as a new (and retail) XP (perhaps XP second edition). This was probably dismissed however after the huge security flaws found in Windows left many users worried about the privacy of their information. So through the good graces of Bill Gates, we receive this update for free. So what will we get? For starters, don’t expect the normal Microsoft promises of “faster loading and easier usage” as XP handled those at its birth. No, this time around Microsoft is going for the “More secure, and more easily customized security.”

Service Pack 2 will contain many code specific security updates that fix holes in the original software. However, for the everyday user this will go pretty much unnoticed. First thing you will probably notice is that as soon as you update to SP2, Windows will prompt you about Automatic Updates. From the familiar check box on the screen, you will choose if you want to download and install updates automatically and what kind of updates you want. This is a blessing for those of us who are happy with a current hardware drivers and don’t want them overridden. The reason Microsoft included this is many people don’t get the latest security updates when they are released, mainly because not everyone checks the Windows site religiously for the latest security notices. In all reality, I don’t know anyone (including yours truly) who does.

The single most important update is to the firewall imbedded into Windows XP. Most people don’t know it’s there, and even those who do, don’t use it. In all reality, in its current state, the firewall does very little. Firewalls are either hardware or software that blocks incoming or outgoing signals that could be harmful to the computer and its performance. The most obvious of these would be a computer hacker. The new and improved firewall in SP2 is a lot harder to get around for hackers. For the home user, it is a lot easier to set up and customize. A lot of people go out and buy internet security software not knowing that XP has some of those features built in. The rest of us either use what we have, or still opt for x brand because the current XP is not enough. Service Pack 2 hopes to remedy this by giving people the security they need built right in. It can help those who don’t have any security software, and for those who spent our hard earned money already, it adds a little more security for free. No losers there.

Alright, is that all SP2 is? No, it also removes some of those every day hassles. Many of us get half a dozen pop-up ads when we are browsing the web. Service Pack 2 includes an updated Internet Explorer with a built in pop-up blocker. Those of us who use Netscape or Mozilla already have this feature, but this definitely evens out the playing field for everyone else, without the hassle of having two internet browsers. In addition to this, the new XP will also have better e-mail protection built in as well as features to protect your computer memory from viruses (if your hardware supports this feature).

Overall, this is probably the most significant update to an already existing Windows Microsoft has ever done. It increases security exponentially over previous versions, and makes every day security hassles (such as pop-ups and e-mail) a little easier to deal with. The best part, it’s free. Service Pack 2 will be coming your way in the next few months, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Microsoft will make every effort to let you know its there.

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