Microsoft delays SP2 auto update

Delay will give big companies more time to hunt down compatibility problems, the software giant says.

Microsoft is delaying distribution of Windows XP Service Pack 2 via its Automatic Update service by at least nine days in order to give corporate customers more time to temporarily block automatic downloading of SP2 by their employees.

The software maker notified customers of the decision in an e-mail on Sunday, one day before it had planned to make SP2 available through automatic distribution. Microsoft said many big companies aren't ready to make the move and need more time to put in place tools to block automatic updates to SP2 until they can fully test their internal applications.

SP2 now won't be available on Automatic Update for users of Windows XP Professional Edition until Aug. 25 at the earliest, according to the e-mail, which was posted to a number of enthusiast Web sites, including one run by Steven Bink, a software developer based in Amsterdam.

A Microsoft representative verified the authenticity of the e-mail.

The delay largely affects users of Windows XP Professional Edition that rely on Microsoft's Windows Update/Automatic Update services. People running Windows XP Home Edition will get SP2 via Automatic Update beginning on Wednesday. Big companies that use Microsoft's Software Update Services for patch management received SP2 on Monday as originally scheduled.

Microsoft released Service Pack 2 to PC manufacturers on Aug. 6 after a number of delays .

Along with various bug fixes, SP2 adds a new "security center" that is intended to provide a beefed-up firewall and easy ways to tell whether a PC is updated and protected against viruses. In addition, SP2 includes a pop-up blocker in the Internet Explorer browser and updated support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technologies.

A rough debut
Compatibility with older applications is a major concern for corporate users. Microsoft on Monday published a list of nearly 50 software applications and games that may encounter problems with SP2. A range of tools are listed in the Microsoft report, including several of the software maker's own products, along with various antivirus tools and Web server software applications.

The auto update delay is unlikely to be a problem for customers. Many companies appear to be in no hurry to install the update. IBM told employees last week to hold off installing SP2 until Big Blue can fully test and customize it. The company's technology department said the delay is "due to known application problems and incompatibility with IBM workstation applications."

The glitches with existing Windows applications aren't a surprise because SP2's new firewall technology "was inevitably going to cause problems with applications and their ability connect to the Internet," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk.

Few people using Windows at home have firewall software installed, so they will be better off, he said.

But O'Grady took Microsoft to task for SP2's launch to large companies, and in particular for conflicts between the update and Microsoft's own management tools . "IT administrators should have had the ability to granularly and selectively deploy this from day one, and the conflicts with System Management Server in particular don't help there," he said.

Despite SP2's rocky debut, O'Grady said that on the balance the update is worth the trouble. "Given the recent spate of attacks and problems, this update--as painful as it has been--is a necessary evil."

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