Windows SP2 Comes Closer with RC 2

Microsoft has taken the second release candidate (RC2)
of its highly-anticipated Windows XP Service Pack 2 public to
further clean up the code to meet a final release deadline this summer.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant, in the midst of a $300 million marketing
for the vaunted update, released the RC2 code Monday for developers to test.

While most service packs for Microsoft don’t garner such attention, the
company is throwing its weight behind a raft of security enhancements in the
wake of years of buggy code and vulnerabilities in most of its applications.
Windows XP SP2 Release Candidate (RC) 2 emphasizes security above
all else.

RC2 boasts stronger default security settings and updates for Windows XP
with new features and tools to help customers better defend their computers
from hackers and viruses, according to a company fact sheet.

A new Windows Security Center allows users to check security functions on
the Control Panel, which monitors information on firewalls, Automatic Update
and third-party antivirus software.

These include improvements to Windows Firewall (formerly Internet Connection
Firewall). With Windows XP SP2, Windows Firewall is enabled by default,
which helps customers guard against attacks by unsolicited inbound traffic.
The improved firewall also extends protection to a computer’s boot time and
shutdown process.

A new Attachment Manager guards users of Outlook Express, Windows Messenger
and Internet Explorer by isolating potentially unsafe attachments during the
opening process. Windows XP SP2 now installs code changes in IE that help
protect against certain types of exploits. The software also limits hackers
by restricting HTML in the local machine zone from running with elevated
system privileges.

Many of the new features hinge on the company’s Internet Explorer browser,
including Internet Explorer Pop-up Blocker; Internet Explorer Information
Bar; and Internet Explorer download monitoring. There is also better support
for wireless radio protocol Bluetooth and includes
Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, the next version of the Tablet PC OS.

Because of the sweeping changes, SP2 is considered by many software experts
to be more of a full, new version of Windows with several fixes than it is a
generic Microsoft service pack.

In fact, Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said the RC download betas are
double the size of normal service pack upgrades from Microsoft. (Jupiter
Research and this publication are owned by the same parent company.) Because
of that, Wilcox, who recently heard a Microsoft XP product manager refer to
SP2 as a service pack upgrade, scoffed at that notion that SP2 is anything
less than a new OS.

“She said that they had to recompile part of the code,” Wilcox told “My point is this: Is there a point where
remodeling a house is so massive it should be called a new home? If the
answer is yes, it’s a new version. If the answer is no, then it’s not.
Either way, the changes are significant.”

There have also been talk about compatibility issues with SP2 and Wilcox
qualified this saying that the greatest risk will be for commercial
applications that incorporate HTML code because Microsoft is making changes
to Internet Explorer that could have an impact on applications that make use
of the browser as its built into Windows.

As is its wont, Microsoft is behind with SP2, having slated a final release
for mid-July. But this new RC2 was scheduled for delivery in May, and the code only appeared this Monday. The beta arrived in
December and RC1 appeared
in March.

Wilcox wondered when the final release will really appear, and said he
wouldn’t be shocked to see an RC3 due to the vast number of changes that
Microsoft is making in the software.

At present, it appears the finished software may not appear until
summer’s end, but Microsoft has yet to be more specific about a due date.

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