Windows XP SP2 Turns ‘On’ Pop-up Blocking

Microsoft’s long awaited Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) now includes some significant tweaks and a change in policy, the company said late Wednesday.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor said it is adding a new Windows Security Center to the control panel and switching the default setting for pop-up blocking in Internet Explorer. Microsoft said it is still on track to deliver the final code for SP2 by the end of June.

With Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of the security-centric OS update, Microsoft also announced plans to open up access to the beta under a technical preview program and launch an SP2 preview site to provide details on the changes for developers.

The biggest change in the updated service pack is the addition of a new Windows Security Center to XP’s control panel to allow consumers to check the status of essential security functionalities. The Security Center has the ability to monitor firewalls, Automatic Update and third-party anti-virus software and warn customers about the need to apply patches.

For enterprise XP users, all aspects of the Security Center can be managed centrally via Active Directory Group Policy, the software giant said.

In a complete about face from the first SP2 release, Microsoft will turn on the pop-up blocker in Internet Explorer by default. As previously reported, the move to enable the pop-up blocker is to rankle agencies, advertisers and publishers that rely heavily on the ad format.

With the change, the IE browser has been programmed to detect whether a pop-up or pop-under window is unwanted if it doesn’t directly result from the customer’s clicking on a link on a Web page. “If users decide to view a blocked pop-up ad, they can simply click on the pop-up blocking menu in the status bar to view the pop-up once or add the Web site to the “safe sites” list. For businesses, this protection will not affect existing intranet sites and line-of-business applications, because pop-ups are not blocked in the local intranet zone,” Microsoft explained in a fact sheet.

“[We] decided to change the [pop-up] default setting after receiving significant customer feedback about the Web browsing experience.”

The IE browser has also undergone a major overhaul to include a new add-on management and crash detection tool and several modifications to the default security settings.

The updated service pack has also been fitted changes to the Windows Update experience. Microsoft has added Windows Update V5 Release Candidate 1 with enhancements to improve ease of use and discoverability of the most important security updates for Windows customers. “SP2 will also make it more convenient to enable Automatic Update, which will download and install critical updates automatically to help customers improve their PC’s security.”

Looking to encourage beta testing by corporate IT customers, Microsoft said it would launch the preview portal to provide access to a variety of SP2 supporting materials and newsgroups.

Windows XP SP2 also includes changes to the embedded firewall (renamed Windows Firewall), which will also be turned on by default. Windows Firewall will block all ports from listening on the network except when they are in use by an application.

It has also been tweaked to run the Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service will run with reduced privileges and to block unauthenticated connections by default. An enhanced secure infrastructure for the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) has also been added to reduce the risk of a successful network attack.

Microsoft’s flagship Windows Media Player 9 Series has also been updated to strengthen security settings and to allow easier control to services enabled within the player.

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