Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: 9/2/05 Upgrading to Windows XP SP2: yes or no?

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) September 1, 2005 10:12 AM PDT

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9/2/05 Upgrading to Windows XP SP2: yes or no?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 9/1/05 10:12 AM

Happy Friday everyone!

Thanks to all of you who contributed to this week's topic. Many of you wrote some outstanding answers to John's question. And I hope these opinions, recommendations, and tips from our members will prove to be helpful when it comes time for any of you upgrade to Windows XP SP2. So read them all!

Members, if you have more questions, or additional advice on this topic, by all means feel free to post them in this thread below. Its all up to you as a community to contribute and learn from one another. So keep on posting.

Thanks everyone and have a great weekend!
-Lee Koo

Question:

I am running Windows XP SP1 and wonder if it is really necessary to upgrade to SP2. I keep up with the critical upgrades from Microsoft, but they keep on bugging me to install SP2. I use ZoneAlarm, AVG AntiVirus, and several antispyware programs. I also am behind a Linksys router with a firewall. Do I really need to install SP2, and what are the benefits? If you say it is necessary to move forward to SP2, are there any specific things I need to do to my computer before upgrading?

Submitted by: John T. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin



Answer:

John,

A Service Pack is essentially a collection of fixes and enhancements released by Microsoft during (roughly) the previous calendar year. Service Packs are not merely for users who fail to keep up with critical updates, though, as they come in quite handy under certain circumstances. For instance, if you upgrade your operating system to Windows XP, have to reinstall it on a new hard drive, or find yourself performing a repair or a reinstallation, a Service Pack facilitates matters considerably. Not only do you find everything you need in one place, it also saves you from downloading dozens of patches individually, many of which would require you to install them one at a time and restart your machine afterward!

Having said that, it is quite reasonable to wonder whether a Service Pack ought to be installed if one has kept up with critical upgrades. If it ain't broke, why fix it, right?

If, in fact, all critical patches and fixes are already installed in your PC, the only thing the Service Pack will add are the new enhancements. The SP2 installer will not download files already installed in your PC, so you need not worry about duplicate files. The question then is, are the enhancements worth the hassle? In a nutshell, yes.

Some of the "enhancements" found in SP2 are minor and subtle, such as slight changes to the default settings in Outlook Express and Internet Explorer (IE). But make no mistake, they were designed to enhance your computer's security as well as its performance. The driving force behind Service Pack 2 was improved security, and that makes SP2 an extremely important - even arguably critical - upgrade.

Microsoft has its own "top ten" list of reasons to upgrade, which you can find here

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/sp2/topten.mspx

However, I have found three of the SP2 features significant and helpful enough to justify - and strongly recommend - the upgrade:

1. Internet Explorer Information Bar: When SP2 is installed in your computer, IE displays a bar (just below the address bar) that notifies you of downloads, blocked pop-ups, and other activities that might otherwise compromise the security of your PC. The Information Bar lets you know IE has blocked controls and/or active content present on the page you are trying to view, or has prevented a website from downloading files to your computer. By doing so, it gives you control over what gets in, so that you download only those files you need rather than junk that might end up being spyware or worse. Protection is not perfect, but it is certainly a step in the right direction and a welcome tool. You'll be surprised how often you are alerted to potential downloads that otherwise would have sneaked in silently!

2. Windows Firewall update: The built-in firewall in Windows XP gets a new name and is now enabled (turned on) by default. Moreover, the firewall now protects your PC during startup and shutdown. These are key changes even if you already use a third-party firewall like ZoneAlarm. Why? Because it allows Windows Firewall to act as an emergency backup in the event your regular firewall malfunctions or is disabled, either by design (e.g., while updating the software), accidentally, or as a result of malware. Windows Firewall kicks in as soon as Windows detects your third-party firewall is inactive, even if we are only talking about the short time it takes the latter to be loaded into memory. Windows Firewall is automatically disabled when another active software firewall is detected so as to avoid the possibility of conflicts. Very cool!

3. Windows Security Center: This feature is accessed through a new icon in your Control Panel, and allows you to monitor the status of your firewall, antivirus, and automatic updates in one place. (SP2 is able to monitor the status of most major third-party firewalls and antivirus software.) You can also configure other security settings from the Security Center main window. Sometimes, Windows will alert you of outdated virus definitions or new versions of software before the corresponding programs get a chance to do so themselves! This sort of redundancy can work to your advantage, as it did for me several months ago: Some of the files of my Norton AntiVirus LiveUpdate became corrupted, and the software was unable to check for new virus definitions as scheduled. After Windows notified me of outdated virus definitions, I checked my LiveUpdate schedule and realized there was a problem. Without SP2 and the new Security Center, it might have taken me significantly longer to discover the problem, and my computer would have been vulnerable to new malware attacks all that time.

Those are the key selling points for me as far as SP2 is concerned, though hardly the only ones. You can find a list of all of the key SP2 features by visiting

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/sp2/features.mspx

Chances are Microsoft will eventually require all Windows XP computers upgrade to SP2, or you will need to do so in order to take advantage of future enhancements, features, or even download critical fixes and patches. SP2 has been around long enough that the lion's share of issues has already been addressed, making the upgrade a relatively safe proposition.
Having said that, there are a few precautions you should take before upgrading to SP2. For starters,

1. Scan your computer for malware and spyware. Remove any unwanted items detected during the scans from your PC;

2. Create a Restore Point using Windows XP's System Restore utility (START/ALL PROGRAMS/ACCESSORIES/SYSTEM TOOLS/SYSTEM RESTORE). In the rare event you encounter problems after the upgrade, you should be able to safely return your computer to its last working state. To play it safe, back up important files and documents;

3. Microsoft recommends that you check your computer's manufacturer website to check for any updates your PC might need to ensure full compatibility with SP2;

4. Verify that your PC meets or exceeds Microsoft's minimum system requirements for the Service Pack. This information is found here

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/sp2/sysreqs.mspx

Once you are ready to upgrade, visit the Microsoft Update Website (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/) to scan your computer and get the upgrade. You might need to update your Windows Updating software before using the website.

You can find more information and tips on installing SP2 by checking Get Your PC Ready for Windows XP SP2

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/sp2/sp2_whattoknow.mspx

Additional information and helpful articles can be found here:

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/sp2/default.mspx

Hope this information helps!

Best wishes,

Miguel K. of Columbus, Ohio

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