Microsoft offers SP2 compatibility guide

Security-focused Windows XP update can be tough on applications. Guidelines are meant to help professionals "test and mitigate."

Microsoft has launched a do-it-yourself kit to help IT professionals assess their software's compatibility with Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Fears among system administrators and IT managers that SP2 may break homegrown applications have already led to delays in corporate launches . To get users back on track and keep developers' blood pressure down, Microsoft is offering the application compatibility testing guide.

The guide, which can be retrieved from Microsoft's Download Center, is designed to help administrators "test and mitigate application compatibility issues." Microsoft adds that the guide is meant for a network of any size and is "as relevant to peer-to-peer environments as it is to Active Directory environments."

At more than 100 pages, the guide doesn't make for light reading. It covers the havoc that SP2 could wreak on machines running Windows XP, how to go about testing for incompatibility issues and how to fix the problems that come up. The guide also provides two possible deployment road maps for businesses unsure about how to launch the service pack.

In the guide, Microsoft warns: "increasing security in the network environment can result in legitimate applications or features not operating as expected...Applications that were not designed to meet these higher security requirements may experience some compatibility issues."

The guide gives advice about how to reconfigure XP to help keep applications on their feet but adds: "This procedure is not recommended but may be necessary in the short term." The party line from Microsoft, however, is that it's the applications, not the operating system, that should be rejiggered and that security settings should always be left at their highest level once administrators have finished tinkering.

Microsoft is well aware of how SP2 can affect applications; the software behemoth has already published a list of nearly 50 programs that face problems if the service pack is installed. Microsoft has also had to issue a patch that allows its CRM (customer relationship management) product to continue working once SP2 is installed.

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