Windows XP Home: Service Pack 1

It has been over a year since Win­dows XP launched, and Microsoft has recently released its Service Pack 1 (SP1) for the operating system. In this column we will highlight the important updates in SP1 and step you through the installation process.

Traditionally, the first Service Pack for a Microsoft product has imbued its soft­-ware with a certain level of stability and security. Windows XP SP1 is not as crucial as previous OS service packs, predominantly due to the inclusion of the Automatic Updates feature and the diligence of users who have installed these updates when prompted. However, a number of additional components in SP1 are a little more exciting than the typical collection of patches and bug fixes.

One is the US Department of Justice-influenced component that allows you to change the default middleware applications, as well as supress the appearance of all Microsoft middleware, such as Internet Explorer, Instant Messenger and Windows Media Player.

Windows XP’s controversial Product Activation feature receives a minor adjust­ment with SP1. After making significant hardware changes, you now get a three-day grace period before you have to enter a new product key. SP1 also provides new support for USB 2.0, an updated Messenger program (version 4.7), and a number of security enhancements for Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. There are 308 bug fixes and patches in SP1, but if you want details on them you will have to go to the Micro­soft support site and read knowledge base article Q324720.

Installing SP1

At press time, there are two main ways to obtain SP1: you can order an SP1 CD from Microsoft for a nominal fee or you can download the necessary files from Microsoft’s Web site. The Web site download Express Installation can be as little as 30MB if you have installed most of the automatic updates in the past.

To download SP1, point your browser to the Windows Update Web site. Click the Scan for updates link on the main page and wait while Windows Update scans your computer to see which updates you have installed. If you haven’t installed SP1 then it will appear in the list of Critical Updates. If other critical updates are listed, it is advisable to install them as well.

The installation process for Windows XP SP1 is supposed to be smoother than for previous service packs but there will always be hiccups for some people. It is advisable to create a restore point using System Restore before installing SP1 so that you can easily roll back if SP1 causes problems (see November 2002 issue page 154 for more information on System Restore).

Many PC users have reported problems with their systems after installing SP1, including some programs taking longer to start than previously, as well as Internet and printer settings returning to defaults. So, after you have installed SP1 and restarted your computer, check your browser and printing preferences as well as the per­formance of programs such as Instant Messenger to see if there is any noticeable degradation. If you’re not happy with your system after SP1 has been installed, then by all means remove it.

Removing Microsoft middleware

One of the noticeable changes after installing SP1 is the inclusion of the “Set Program Access and Defaults” option in Add or Remove Programs. Add or Remove Programs can be accessed from the Control Panel, but you will also find a direct shortcut to the “Set Program Access and Defaults” option in the All Programs menu. This component controls the default applications for your Web browser, e-mail program, media player, instant messaging program, and Java virtual machine.

There are three main configurations from which you can choose (plus an additional manufacturer’s configuration if you pur­chased your computer from, for example, Dell). The Microsoft Windows configuration uses Microsoft applications as the defaults, the Non-Microsoft configuration hides all the Microsoft programs (note that they are hidden and not removed), and the Custom configuration allows you to customise how each middleware application behaves.

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Kieran McNamee

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