June 18th, 2004, 03:43 PM
Windows XP SP2 RC2 - Overview
This is a quick intro to the installation of the new Windows XP Service Pack (Service Pack 2, Release Candidate 2). It also covers the most common new features.
To install the new SP, you'll need to update your MicroSoft Update Client to Version 5. The new Windows Update Site is located at
Once you grant the MicroSoft update client access, you're taken to the Installation page. You have the option between:
- Express Install - fast updating, quickly scan for, download, and install only the critical and security updates your computer needs.
- Custom Install - optional, critical, and security updates your computer needs, choose from all the updates on the site, and review updates before installing.
If you already had automatic install turned on, Windows will tell you that updates are available and give you the same options.
Before you can install SP2, you'll need to update some of the Windows Update components. Here's a little overview of the new Windows Update client:
- Express and custom installation: Choose only the most recent critical updates or pick and choose from all available updates.
- Smarter downloads: If downloading is interrupted, the process will start up where it left off the next time you download that update.
- Smaller downloads: Only the files your computer needs are downloaded, saving download time and connection-speed costs.
- One version: Only the most recent updates are offered to you.
- Less clutter: You can now hide updates you don't want to see.
- Update news: A News from Microsoft section on the Windows Update home page displays tips and the latest information.
The Windows Update component that is updated is the BITS, or the Microsoft Background Intelligent Transfer Service, to Client Version 2.0 RC2.
This component is also used by MSN Explorer to transfer files in the background using idle network bandwith.
This "should" be described in KB842773, but at the time of writing, I couldn't find that Knowledge Base article.
Once your Update client is updated, you'll need to reboot.
The reboot-screen gives you the option to "streamline the way you receive future updates" (in other words: configure your Automatic Updates).
On reboot, the first "big change" is made in the background: the file winhttp.dll (Windows HTTP Services) is updated to version 5.1.2600.1557 (xpsp2_gdr.040517-1325)
When you go back to the Update Site, you are "strongly recommended" to install Windows XP Service Pack 2 (Release Candidate 2). Gosh, that's exactly what I was planning on doing.
According to MS, "the features in this service pack are designed to help defend against viruses, worms, and other security threats."
On two different computers (one XP Home, one XP Pro), I've had problems with the connection (download stalling at 1.60MB,...). I'm not sure if this is due to the high traffic on the MS site, or if it's a problem with the new update client.
When the download is completed, the usual install-procedure begins: License Agreement, Backup of System Files, Setting a Restore Point.
Almost all Windows components are updated by this SP. To give you an idea, here is a list of components that are updated before the actual installation even begins: rasman.dll (Remote Access Connection Manager), rasapi32.dll (Remote Access API), comctl32.dll (Common Controls Library), imagehlp.dll (Windows NT Image Helper), oleaut32.dll (Microsoft OLE 3.50), advapi32.dll (Advanced Windows 32 Base API), kernel32.dll (Windows NT BASE API Client DLL), ntdll.dll (NT Layer DLL), helpsvc.exe (Microsoft Help Center Service).
As usual, a final reboot is required. On rebooting, you're greeted (AGAIN... this SP has a strong emphasis on Automatic Updates) with an Automatic Updates configuration screen (in the style of the screen you see when you first install Windows).
The New Service Pack
If you double-click the Wireless network icon in your taskbar (or, of course, open Network Connections in the Control Panel), you'll get the new and improved wireless network status.
A new option has been added: View Wireless Networks. It'll give you a list of available wireless network, security settings included (Unsecured Vs. Security-enabled). Not as extensive as NetStumbler, but it's close
Also, a new Wireless Network Setup Wizard has been added. It'll give you the option to assign an SSID, and a WEP-key (either auto-assigned by Windows, or setup manually). You also have the option to use WPA instead of WEP. If you add WEP-security to your network, you'll be offered to store the key on a USB flash drive so you don't have to manually enter the key for all connected devices (or do it the old way: set up all devices manually - the wizard will give you a nice overview of the values).
"File a Bug"
An icon ("File A Bug") has been added to your desktop, which links you to http://windowsbeta.microsoft.com/xps...k/default.aspx.
Apparently, only .NET-password owners and MicroSoft employees are allowed to file bugs.
- Firewall: ON by default. The firewall by default "blocks all outside sources from connecting to this computer, with the exception of those selected on the Exceptions tab."
There's an option to not allow exceptions. In the Exceptions tab, you can Add Programs, Add Ports, and Edit the existing vaues.
The existing values in the Exceptions tab are: File and Printer Sharing, Remote Assistance, Remote Desktop, and UPnP Framework. For some weird reason, Remote Assistance is enabled by default...
If you Add a Program, you are presented with a list of programs currently installed on your PC. You can also "Change the scope" for a particular program: specify the set of computers for which this program is unblocked. You can select "Any computer" (the default), "My network (subnet) only), or create a custom list.
If you Add a Port, you are asked to provide the port Name, and the Port number, and select either TCP or UDP.
There is also an Advanced tab where you can add or edit accessible services (FTP, SMTP, POP,...), and change ICMP settings:
-incoming echo request, incoming timestamp request, incoming mask request, incoming router request, outgoing destination unreachable, outgoing source quench, outgoing parameter problem, outgoing time exceeded, redirect.
The Logging Options allow you to Log Dropped Packets, and even Log Successful Connections. Of course, there's an option to limit the size of your logfile (and it's path).
- Automatic Updates: SP2 has a strong emphasis on automatic updates. Therefore, they are enabled by default. The default option is to automatically download updates and install them at 3:00 AM. Of course, you can change this.
The option to download but not install is still there, as is the option to only notify you.
- Virus Protection: SP2 integrates your virus-protection in its security center (actually, you can only see its status...).
- Internet Options:
The new integrated pop-up blocker, enabled by default. You have the option to add exceptions, and select your Filter Level: Low, Medium, or High.
The new Manage Add-ons function: Tools --> Internet Options --> Programs --> Manage Add-ons: allows you to manage your browser add-ons (Java, Adobe, Google Toolbar, Flash, ActiveX,...).
- Outlook (Express):
Outlook has a new option, enabled by default: if you run Outlook in HTML-mode, pictures and other external content is blocked, and Outlook displays the message "Some pictures have been blocked to help prevent the sender from identifying your computer.:
To access this option:
Tools --> Options --> Security --> Block images and other external content in HTML-email.
Although it is too soon to judge the new SP, a lot of noticeable efforts have been made to make Windows more secure for the average home user, mainly by enabling necessary features by default. The wireless network wizard should make setting up a wireless network easy even for newbies, the Security Center is a nice centralisation of the basic Windows security features.