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Microsoft lets companies block SP2 upgrade

Temporary block allows companies to make sure that there are no problems with custom applications and other software.

Although Microsoft recommends that consumers turn on Automatic Update to get the latest version of Windows, the company is offering to let companies temporarily block such upgrades.

The tool, which is posted on Microsoft's Web site, allows companies that have Automatic Update running on their machines to leave the feature on, while temporarily blocking Service Pack 2 (SP2).

"While recognizing the security benefits of Windows XP SP2, some organizations have requested the ability to temporarily disable delivery of this update," Microsoft said on its Web site. The company says the blocking tool will give companies up to four months to perform the upgrade on their own before automatically installing SP2.

Microsoft's recommendation has been for businesses to test SP2 as they would test other big operating system upgrades to make sure that there are no problems with custom applications and other software.

"We're encouraging our organizational customers--government, education, corporations--to start testing and to deploy the service pack as quickly as possible," said Barry Goffe, a group manager in Microsoft's Windows client unit. But, he added, "there are application compatibility consequences and we want to make sure customers are aware of those within their environment before they upgrade."

That recommendation has been echoed by computer makers and others, with IBM sending out a memo telling its employees not to install the update because of potential incompatibilities. Many CIOs say they, too, plan to go slow in adding SP2 to their machines.

Microsoft finalized the security-oriented upgrade last week, posting a tool online this week that allows businesses to upgrade their machines. Microsoft plans soon to start pushing SP2 onto machines that have Windows' automatic update feature turned on.

A lot of companies use tools other than Automatic Update to keep their machines up and running, though some businesses, often smaller companies, use Automatic Update as a means of keeping Windows PCs up to date. However, even many large companies use it for some machines, such as field sales-force laptops that may not connect to the network.

"Last week, we started to get a lot of feedback from customers that they weren't completely prepared to have the machines for which (Automatic Update) is turned on start to receive SP2," Goffe said. "They were asking us, 'Is there a way for us to block this?'"

The tool Microsoft came up with, which changes a registry setting to block SP2, is based on one Microsoft used internally to roll out different versions of SP2 within Microsoft during the product's testing phase.

This is the first time Microsoft has had to deal with this particular issue. In the past, Automatic Update was not designed to handle large updates, such as service packs.

Although Goffe said Microsoft was glad to make the tool available, he said the company would actually prefer that large companies use a free Microsoft program called Software Update Services. That program uses the built-in automatic update feature within Windows, but redirects corporate machines to an internal server rather than pointing to Microsoft's servers. As a result, Goffe said, IT departments gain the ability to decide when all updates are installed.

"That's by far the best solution," he said.