Upgrade To XP SP2, Or Wait For Longhorn?

by Hinesh Jethwani    Aug 18, 2004

The arrival of Service Pack (SP2) has given enterprises running Windows 2000 added incentive to adopt Windows XP on new PCs, rather than waiting for Microsoft’s next scheduled release of Windows, (codenamed Longhorn) expected by 2007, claims research firm Gartner.

However, the much-awaited Windows XP Service Pack 2 will require significant testing to ensure compatibility with your existing applications. Mainstream technology adopters should target 2005 for deployment on new no-execute (NX) equipped PCs, suggests Gartner.

Speaking to CXOtoday, Rishi Srivastava, business group head, Microsoft India, said, “I personally feel that comparing Windows XP SP2 to Longhorn is unfair and impractical. Being the next version of Windows after XP, Longhorn will obviously retain some of its features (Including the recent security additions to SP2). However, it will present a totally different option to CIOs, as it will have volumes of next generation features and functionality. Moreover, it’s still a long way off (tentatively slated for release in 2007) to influence CIO strategies that require immediate action for mitigating current security risks.”

Microsoft is expected to localize the software in 25 languages by Q4 and distribute it to computer manufacturers, enterprise customers and consumers through downloads, retail installation, free CDs and on new PCs.

SP2 includes a number of badly needed fixes to the Internet Explorer browser that is built into Windows, including enhancements to help prevent pop-up advertisements and “phishing” attacks. Microsoft has also updated the simple firewall that was built into XP (now turned on by default) and is adding technology known as Data Execution Prevention (DEP) to prevent worms from spreading through buffer overruns, when run on PCs with NX-capable processors.

Gartner recommends that only those companies that have tested SP2 during the beta time frame should consider deploying the upgrade it in four to six weeks — provided their applications have proved compatible and no major problems were reported.

Mainstream enterprises should plan to wait at least two months after SP2 ships before beginning deployment, and should favor testing on PCs with NX-enabled processors that support the DEP function (available now from Advanced Micro Devices and in Q4 from Intel). Testing on NX-enabled machines will ensure that running in physical address extension (PAE) memory mode does not break any applications or drivers. Companies that test on non-NX PCs will have no option but to repeat testing on NX PCs, stressed Gartner.

An added benefit for the Indian market is the fact that some small businesses will find the Windows firewall included in SP2 sufficient for their base-level security needs.

Also, with Microsoft’s own CRM throwing up compatibility issues with SP2, what is the guarantee that business-specific applications will run smoothly after the upgrade? Srivastava countered, “There could be — and will be — some line of business application failures. Most of these issues however, will require small tweaks, solvable through SP2 settings itself. Only some rare cases may require recoding. The CRM compatibility issues have already been mitigated in the new version, i.e. CRM 1.2, which is available to all existing customers as a free upgrade from CRM 1.0.”

After SP2 is installed, some programs may not work, as by default, Windows Firewall is enabled and blocks unsolicited connections. Microsoft has released a list of around 50 programs that may require admins to open the port or ports manually, to ensure that their programs work correctly.