PC makers: Look before taking SP2 leap

Many PC makers have a list of drivers and other patches that should be in place before installing the OS update.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
4 min read
Although Microsoft has recommended consumers turn on Windows' Automatic Update feature to get Windows XP Service Pack 2, PC makers are reminding Windows XP users to do their homework before installing the security update.

Major computer makers recommend consumers install the update, but in many cases they also have a list of revised drivers and other software patches that should be installed before downloading and installing the operating system update.


What's new:
PC makers are reminding Windows XP users to do their homework before installing the security update.

Bottom line:
Many PC makers have a list of revised drivers and patches that should be installed before downloading the OS update.

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For example, Dell notes that owners of Inspiron 9100 or XPS laptops with certain ATI graphics cards should update their drivers, as should those with an internal Bluetooth wireless card.

Hewlett-Packard has a list of updates on its Web site that consumers should check before installing the update. In particular, many components of the company's Media Center products should be updated, including the driver for the wireless keyboard and the software for the program guide. Sony, too, has posted a tool on its Web site to let customers determine what, if any, updates should be made prior to installing Service Pack 2.

A Microsoft representative said that that although the company has been pushing Automatic Update as the easiest way to download SP2, it has been recommending that customers check with their PC maker and other hardware makers to get any necessary driver updates. Microsoft also has its own list of software that may have compatibility issues or may work differently with SP2 as well as a page with links to PC makers' sites.

Support headache avoided
Despite the caution, computer makers say the upgrade has not resulted in the support headaches that they had feared.

"We would have expected our call volume to increase significantly," said Bob Cote, vice president of client services at Gateway. Instead, Cote said that Gateway is getting fewer than 100 calls per day related to SP2.

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Many PC makers credited the results to advanced planning and Microsoft's listening to their advice to stagger the release of the software upgrade. The company is making the operating system available gradually via Automatic Update and is also capping the number of people who can grab the operating system manually at any given time.

A Dell representative said the company was prepared for an increase in support calls, but so far has seen only a brief spike. "We saw a little bit of an uptick when the service pack first became available, but call volumes today are within the norms," Dell representative Jennifer Jones said.

A couple of delays for SP2 allowed Microsoft to make some final tweaks and also gave computer makers a little extra time to get their support procedure ready.

"They delayed it a few times, and I'm glad they did," said Jim Kahler, a manager of consumer PC support at HP.

Gateway's Cote said most of the support calls have been general inquiries, with customers trying to decide whether to upgrade or wait. "We're recommending that they go ahead," he said, adding that customers should back up their data first, just in case there is a problem loading the update.

On the business side, customers have already taken a wait-and-see approach, testing SP2 as they would any major operating system change.

Bracing for problems
A new study released this week from consultant AssetMetrix found that the typical company can expect at least some SP2 compatibility issues on about 10 percent of its machines that run the software.

"There will be some, what I would consider, transitory issues," said Steve O'Halloran, managing director for AssetMetrix's research arm. "In most cases the software just needs a little configuration (change) and the incompatibility goes away."

The big problem is when issues catch a company unaware, he said. That occurred at his own firm this past weekend, he noted, when two workers with laptops downloaded SP2 at home, only to find problems when they came back into the office.

He encouraged companies and individuals to compare Microsoft's list of software issues to the list of programs running on any machine being considered for upgrade. An easy way to compare is by checking the "Add/Remove programs" option built into Windows.

Still, O'Halloran said companies should adjust to SP2, given both its security benefits and that it will be the standard on new PCs.

"Ultimately, it is our opinion that regardless of what you think the cost might be, that the benefits of Service Pack 2 far outweigh the small little annoyances of trying to fix these application incompatibilities," he said.

CNET News.com's John G. Spooner contributed to this report.