Well, it's here. After much build-up, Microsoft has released the second service pack for Windows XP. Is it good? Bad? Indifferent? User reports are pretty varied - some people have reported issues with it, while others have noticed a marked improvement in the speed of their system. Probably the only way to know for sure is to give SP2 a test run yourself. Of course, I'll also have to throw in the obligatory disclaimer here and mention that the onus of responsibility for installing SP2 and performing these tweaks - and their results - is entirely up to you.
In this article, I'll take you on a brief overview of what's changed and run you through the installation process before getting into the nitty gritty and examining how to tweak the new settings that SP2 has introduced and revamped. There's also a few general XP tweaks (i.e., ones that will work with fresh/SP1 XP) packed in there too.
Before we do begin, you'll need these things;
A legitimate copy of the Windows XP operating system
The actual service pack file, which weighs in at a hefty 266MB (download here)
Administrator rights on the computer you're working on
Some registry editing experience
Once you've got all of these, you're ready to tweak!
So, what's changed?
Two words that often appear in the same sentence are "security" and "Microsoft". Of course, there's usually a "lack thereof" thrown in there somewhere as well. Numerous worms and viruses exploiting vulnerabilities in Windows has led to a reputation for somewhat dubious security - something that Microsoft seems determined to address in this new patch. Not only has Microsoft completely revamped the Internet Connection Firewall (or ICF, now known as the Windows Firewall and covered in detail on the next page), but introduced the Windows Security Center, designed to be a simple nexus to control and manage key security settings.
Another key security issue that has been addressed is the way the Remote Procedure Call object works. No longer sporting super-privileges and with firewall restrictions, the RPC will hopefully become less of a target for malicious users aiming to exploit Windows NT-based systems, such as those who wrote the universally crippling "Blaster" worm. In a similar vein, SP2 provides for a hardware-enforced no-execute method, which means that processors that support it are able to protect program code from data. This will serve to defend against viruses that attack memory marked for data, although at the time of writing, the only consumer processors to support this features are the Athlon 64/Opteron family.
Also updated is the way Automatic Updates are handled, with SP2 now ensuring that the user makes a definitive choice regarding automatically downloading patches and the like. Additions have also been made to the Internet Explorer browser, which now utilizes an integrated popup blocker and is more conscious about potentially dangerous downloads. Other miscellaneous features that have seen some improvement include Direct X, WiFi and Bluetooth support, Media Player, and Outlook Express.
If you're really interested in what other changes Microsoft have slipped in with SP2, you can view the full listing here:
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