Windows XP SP2
The major changes to Windows XP brought on by the upcoming Service Pack 2 are bound to cause support headaches. Users, PC makers, and Microsoft itself all expect a spike in help desk calls.
The much-anticipated SP2, which will include new features and a host of security-related fixes, is due in August, later than originally planned. When it comes out, users will be able to download it automatically through Microsoft's Windows Update service. But they should know that the massive patch could create problems, including breaking current applications, disrupting networking setups, and prompting nontechnical users to make PC configuration decisions that may be beyond their grasp.
Microsoft is still working on a plan to support its security-focused update, but one significant decision has been made: Microsoft will offer no-charge, worldwide telephone support for the service pack. The company is returning to its policy of providing free support for service packs after leaving support for Windows XP SP1 to PC makers. Nevertheless, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Gateway are also gearing up for the release of SP2 and will also support their customers directly.
Although Microsoft has deemed Windows XP SP2 a service pack, the update really is more comparable to a major Windows upgrade. SP2 contains bug fixes and updates, but it also offers new features and makes significant changes to the Windows software in four main areas: network protection, memory protection, e-mail security, and browsing security.
In general, Microsoft has made something of a trade-off with SP2, focusing on security at the expense of compatibility. As a result, SP2 can render existing applications inoperable. Industry experts have said Microsoft--and end users--may have to treat SP2 like a new operating system, which could make people nervous.
SP2 makes changes to Windows that all users will notice. For example, the Windows Security Center will alert users if their systems aren't sufficiently secured. Also, a security wizard pops up after installing the update, which asks a user to make decisions about settings such as automatic updating. Another new feature is a setup tool for wireless networks.
Consequently, all users may have reasons to grab the phone and call support. "The first time Windows Security Center pops up and says your computer is not secure, that can lead to a panic attack," says Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research. "Or what if a warning you've never seen before appears when downloading a Web page?"
Microsoft recognizes that there will be an increase in support demand. "I definitely think we will see ramped up support requests," says Matt Pilla, a senior product manager at Microsoft. "What we have here is a security-focused service pack release that is going to have some significant impact on people's systems."
Still, experts agree that because of the security benefits SP2 promises, users should work through any difficulties in order to install the update.