Prepare for Service Pack 2

Having run the beta and release candidates of SP2 for the past two months, I haven’t encountered any show-stoppers, despite the recent news that SP2 may cause problems with some applications. With an improved firewall that now filters traffic in both directions, and Internet Explorer’s new pop-up and spyware stoppers, there’s enough here to push SP2 onto most Windows users’ must-have list.

There aren’t any huge surface changes to SP2, apart from Microsoft providing a security management applet (aptly named Security Center) with graphical tools for setting Windows Firewall options, as well as Internet browsing and connections. The reason for placing the shortcut to System Properties in Security Center isn’t apparent, however, until you discover that this is where you change the options for Automatic Updates.

What you don’t see at first glance are all the changes Microsoft has made beneath Windows XP’s surface. For example, unsafe attachments sent via e-mail and instant messaging are now ‘sandboxed’, protecting your system by keeping potentially malicious code away from important files.

Microsoft is also introducing binary patching. This comes courtesy of the Microsoft Software Installer (MSI) version 3.0 in SP2 and means that patching and updating existing system software is handled in a much more frugal manner. In place of the previous wholesale rewriting of existing files, you’ll get the ‘delta’, in other words, the difference between the new binary and old one. MSI will use this to patch your files, which should make the process much quicker as well as reducing download requirements.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of SP2 itself, as it weighs 273MB, so you wouldn’t want to download it on a slow or expensive connection. The good thing is that most users won’t need to pull down the whole quarter-gigabyte behemoth. Instead, Windows Update will offer a smaller Express Version that’ll be around 75-80MB, according to Nathan Mercer, Technology Specialist at Microsoft’s Auckland office. Mercer also said that the boxed versions of Windows XP available from shops or from Microsoft’s distributors will be refreshed so that they’re up-to-date with SP2.

Slipstream update

If you’ve got a copy of Windows XP that you want to update with a full copy of the SP2 executable (winxpsp2.exe), you can use the slipstream method as in the past.

First, copy the entire i386 directory from the Windows XP CD-ROM onto your hard disk and into a directory off the root file system, such as C:\XPFILES. Open a Command window by clicking Start-Run and typing cmd into the dialogue box that appears. Extract the SP2 files with this command:

D:\winxpsp2.exe /x

substituting the drive letter, if necessary, for the one where the SP2 executable is located on your system. A dialogue box pops up, asking you to choose a directory for the extracted files. Use a simple path like C:\SP2, and then update your Windows XP setup files with this command:

C:\SP2\i386\update\update.exe –s:C:\XPFILES

After the updating process is finished, you can then burn the i386 directory in C:\XPFILES onto a CD. To make bootable installation CDs and DVDs, follow the instructions on Bart Lagerweij’s site,

Microsoft will make free copies of SP2 available if you contact them on 13 2058. Alternatively, you can use Windows Update to select and install the Express version automatically. Be aware, however, that connecting an un-patched version of Windows XP to the Internet means that you stand a great chance of getting ‘Blastered’ (infected by the MS-Blaster worm).

Mercer says that in order to avoid this, turn on the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) which blocks Remote Procedure Calls (RPC) by default, which is what the MS-Blaster Worm exploits. Turning on ICF is easy; just follow these steps:

  • Go to Control Panel and open Network Connections.
  • Click on the connection you use for the Internet — Dial-Up, LAN or similar — and from the Network Tasks on the left-hand side of the window, click on Change Settings of This Connection.
  • In the resulting dialogue box, click on the Advanced tab and enable the Internet Connection Firewall by putting a tick into the box next to “Protect my computer and network by limiting or preventing access to this computer from the Internet”.

    Over the next set of Windows XP columns, I’ll be delving deeper into SP2 and showing you how to take advantage of its new features.