eagerly anticipated Windows XP upgrade promises major security enhancements for customers but the company has already warned that Service Pack 2 (SP2) will break and
disrupt existing applications.
In this interview with internetnews.com, product manager in the Microsoft Developer Group Tony Goodhew discusses the thinking behind the security enhancements, the
code changes that need to be made and the tradeoff between security and functionality.
Q: You’ve already warned that XP SP2 will break and disrupt existing applications. What types of applications are going to be affected the most by the security-focused changes?
Some applications will be highly [impacted] but some others will have little or no problems. We launched an online course for developers to spell out all the changes to help them prepare. The peer-to-peer applications will be [impacted] the most. Those types of applications rely on a lot of network activity. They expect to be able to talk through a firewall that will now be turned on by default. So, the P2P guys will have to make major changes or their applications will break.
If you are writing code for applications that listen on a network, you are going to be impacted by these changes. It won’t affect the entire applications market but we’re mostly letting people know that it affects certain categories.
What has been the response to the online
training course? And why the unusual move to do this?
This isn’t just a bug-fix service pack release. We are making significant changes to improve XP security. We decided to provide a free course for developers so as not to blindside them. We are explicitly telling them that some of their applications will not work if they don’t change their code. We are making changes to defaults that their applications rely on. They have to prepare for it or there will be problems.
The reaction has been very, very positive. The developers we’ve spoken to
have found the material very valuable and, for the most part, they’ve been
very happy with how we’ve detailed the changes that need to be made. It’s
about 90 minutes of online training. The developer can go to the URL and it will lead them through the four major areas of
changes coming in SP2. It walks them through the important sub-areas. It
tells them ‘these are what the changes are and this is what they mean to
your application. You will need to do this and this and this to ensure you
application could keep working’.
With these changes, you care focusing on security over functionality
and backward compatibility. Is that a fair tradeoff to the smaller
application developers who have to deal with tons of manual changes?
Like I said before, the changes are significant but it only affects
certain categories of applications. The bulk of the smaller VAR and ISVs
are going to have a small amount of work to do. It’s not like they will need
to rewrite their applications completely. But, they have to be diligent
about testing to ensure their apps work properly. If they do network
connectivity in a part of their application, they will be highly affected
because of the firewall changes. We are turning the firewall on when the
existing applications haven’t been written to deal with that.
But, if you are not dealing with network connectivity, your code changes
aren’t going to be major. For instance, desktop productivity applications
will have little or no affect. What developers will find is that their apps
may require some configuration of the firewall to continue to work. In some
cases, all that need to be done is to tell customers to ‘do this, this and
this’ to the new Windows Firewall.
[XP SP2] is responding to a great customer demand. We improved the
platform from a security perspective. That’s exactly what we’re doing. I
don’t believe the requirement that small and medium ISVs and VARs make
changes are so onerous. The tradeoff works both ways for them, in terms of
the gains their customers get from increased security. If I’m a small ISV
and I had the firewall turned on, I would not have had to deal with the
Blaster virus. Costs would have been saved there.
Talk a bit about the four major changes in SP2 and the reasons for
The number one area is network protection and I spoke already about the
Windows Firewall, which comes with an explicit setting to enable automatic
opening and closing of ports for RPC. We have added new Memory Protection,
improvements to e-mail security and enhancements to Internet Explorer to
secure the browsing experience.
We’ve added RPC interface restrictions to reduce the attack surface of
Windows XP and DCOM enhancements to deal with reliable and efficient
communication between COM components. We’ve made changes to improve the way
attachments are handles in e-mail and instant messaging.
In IE, we’re making changes to prevent the malicious scripts for running
and to secure against dangerous downloads. We’re adding a pop-up blocker
which will be turned on by default and we’re making UI changes to help
prevent malicious ActiveX controls and spyware from running without the
The service pack is still in beta under a technical
preview program. Do you foresee any more changes between now and the
With Release Candidate 1 (RC1), we feature complete. All of the
enhancements and features are there. But, the defaults can change. We’re
testing now to decide whether to turn the defaults ‘on’ or ‘off’. Those
decisions are going to be made based on the feedback we receive. We’re
looking to get an understanding of how the underlying bits work as part of
the broader exposure with RC1.