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Microsoft to step up SP2 downloads

Software giant to accelerate distribution of XP update to meet goal of 100 million downloads in two months.

Microsoft said it would speed up SP2 distribution to meet its self-imposed goals, having distributed just one-fifth of its planned installations a month after launch.

Microsoft on Tuesday said that as of last week it had distributed 20 million copies of Windows XP Service Pack 2, last month's comprehensive security update to the company's flagship operating system.

On Aug. 6, the company set a goal of distributing 100 million copies within two months through its automatic update service alone. That projection didn't include installations of the upgrade downloaded from the Windows Update Web site.

Despite being 80 million copies short--even counting Windows Update distributions--Microsoft said it was still on track to meet its goal. The company will be increasing the rate at which automatic update notifications go out.

"Microsoft is aggressively monitoring and managing the download of SP2, and the numbers of downloads will increase per day over time," a Microsoft spokesman said. "It's not as if the rate stays constant. Microsoft is on track to do 80 million in the next month."

Microsoft clarified that the two-month period began Aug. 18, when SP2 began rolling out via the automatic update service, giving Microsoft a full month still to reach its goal.

Automatic update figures represent mostly consumers and small business customers, according to Microsoft.

Following concerns over SP2 by both IT managers and computer makers, large companies have prevailed on Microsoft to block the update from installing automatically.

Security experts, while urging people to embrace the update to protect themselves against Internet hazards, have warned that it could wreak some havoc of its own.

"Service Pack 2 makes significant changes to improve the security of Windows XP, and these changes may have negative effects on some programs and Windows functionality," US-CERT (the U.S. Computer Security Readiness Team), a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, advised late last month. "Before you install Service Pack 2, back up your important data and consult your computer manufacturer's web site for information about Service Pack 2."

One analyst said companies' apprehension about those negative effects would make it tougher for Microsoft to reach its goal.

"It's not that companies aren't accepting SP2--they should, since they demanded it," said Steve O'Halloran, vice president of AssetMetrix in Ottawa, Canada. "It's that companies are planning the SP2 deployment as if it's another operating system. And in some ways, it really should be viewed that way, because there are business applications that experience interference from SP2. So the 20 million figure hopefully is an indication that companies are sitting back and figuring out how to do this right."

Even if Microsoft achieves its goal of 100 million SP2 installations, that still won't cover the whole XP user base, much less the Windows world as a whole.

Of Microsoft's approximately 390 million operating-system installations around the world, Windows XP Pro constitutes 26.1 percent, and Windows XP Home 24.7 percent, according to IDC.

SP2 remains irrelevant for the remaining 49.2 percent of Windows users unless they upgrade. That total is composed of Windows 2000 Professional (17.5 percent), Windows 98 (14.9 percent), Windows Me (6.5 percent), Windows 95 (5.4 percent), and Windows NT Workstation (4.9 percent).