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Windows XP SP2 RC1 Full Preview

I've since written a Preview for RC2 which was released! You can read the updated article HERE

Windows XP SP2 should only be a monthor two away from public release. The first release candidate was released on March 17, nearly a month after the previous build. The current build is 2096 which I am using today (AKA RC1).

I have noticed that MS has posted the full network installer for RC1. If you don't want to download that one I have uploaded the Express installer that weighs in at only 991Kb and will only download the updates that you need. Also to answer several questions I previously had build 2082 installed on this system and it uninstalled just fine. After uninstalling the old version I WAS able to install this newer one.

Please link to this page and not directly to the file. This is hosted on a box that I do have to pay for bandwidth on. If it's abused I may have to take it down. So please be kind and link to this page instead of the file HERE.

Alot of little things have changed. Most of the people around this site that I've talked to simply say I don't like it and uninstall it rather quickly. This is something that you most likely won't like at first, but it grows on ya over time. The more I use it the more I like it! On top of what I've found just by using it I read alot of Microsoft's 200 page document and gave a report here. You'll want to read that article after you've read this one.

Microsoft is putting the finishing touches on everything now that it's reached a release candidate stage. I'm writing this preview because all of the other previews out there have become rather dated from Microsoft working on things for several months. The features covered here are alot closer to the final product.

Automatic Updates

Immediately after installing you're brought to a screen that asks you if you want to enable automatic updates. There is no way to exit this screen without giving either a yes or no answer. This is GREAT. Now most of the normal users will stay up to date with security fixes. It downloads all of the latest security patches for me before I even realize another patch is needed! Previous versions just floated a little window suggesting you turn automatic updates on. I said yes to this. Right away it started downloading the updates it found. The last of these images is a look at the new windows update site since it's changed quite a bit from previous versions. Things like hiding updates are now available if you're sick of seeing an update that you KNOW you don't want to install (*cough* .net framework *cough*) IE's smart downloading with resume support will also work for updates.

Click to Enlarge

I'm not sure exactly how the automatic updates handle the driver updates, but I don't want it to every touch my drivers so I did some looking around and found in system properties --> hardware a box that says windows update. It was defaulted to ask, but I just completely turned it off!

Security Center

The most talked about part of this service pack is of course the Security center and the much improved firewall. Anytime a new program tries to access the internet an alert message will pop up and ask you if you'd like to prevent this program from accessing the internet. Something I noticed is it doesn't stop the program the FIRST time. Behind this message I was viewing a movie preview for the whole ten yards which was on the internet! As good as it is to have the capabilities of blocking programs from accessing the net it's rather stupid that they can access it until you say that the program cannot.

Here's a few screenshots of the Firewall configuration.
[1][2][3][4]

#1 is the basic on/off screen
#2 is the program exceptions list. You can manually add programs to your allowed or not allowed list. You can also modify what ports the various applications are allowed to use. From this screen is how you reach #3
#3 you can see the screen where you can block/unblock any port you want.
#4 used to be several tabs that they've combined and labeled advanced now. The network connections box is where you allow various services to access the internet such as IIS. The next box is the firewall log. If you ever mess anything up they now have a restore defaults button!

The last part of security is memory protection. Several services such as DCOM and RPC have been updated to help prevent buffer-overrun attacks.

The greatest memory protection feature is going to a take a while for most users to be ablet o benefit from. From the MS doc:

Execution protection (also known as NX, or no execute) marks all memory locations in a process as non-executable unless the location explicitly contains executable code. There is a class of attacks that attempt to insert and execute code from non-executable memory locations. Execution protection mitigates this by intercepting these attempts and raising an exception

Both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices ( AMD) have shipped Windows-compatible architectures for execution protection. Windows supports execution protection on the AMD64 platform and Intel Itanium Processor Family (IPF) processors.

IE Updates

Popup Blocker is the most obvious addition. This newest release shows you that it blocked a popup in 2 different ways. The first way is directly under the address bar. You can disable this rather annoying notification by right clicking on it and selecting "turn off information bar for blocked popups" The second way is what they've had in place since the early days of SP2. A nice little icon on the bottom of your screen. I right clicked on it so you see what options you have. The first bar also has these when you right click on it.

Next is what it looks like when you click tools --> popupblocker --> settings

The next thing I did was downloaded winamp where I was given a new screen that looked like this.

IE's Addon manager

To the right it even tells you how many times the addon has been usedand how many times IE stopped it from being used. It's nice to know what plugins were installed for IE. Before any addons are installed for IE you will be prompted to approve it.

There's also supposed to be something called crash detection, but I haven't been able to trigger it so I'm not exactly sure what it'll do.

Disable Crash Detection

HKCU{LM}\Software\Policies \Microsoft\Internet Explorer \Restrictions

NoCrashDetection : DWORD

0

0 ? Off,

1 ? On

The last thing I want to show is the slightly changed add/remove programs

.

This is all a part of the new windows installer that I talked about in my last article. I believe it'll be a great update.

Outro

With RC1 already out the door we're getting closer and closer to a finished product. Even after updating from the previous build there's plenty of noticeable differences in presentation. Alot of the previously documentation is now in place. I didn't have any stability problems in the several weeks of testing the last build and I'm not having any issues with the current build. This sucker is about as stable as a MS product gets ;) This service pack is Microsoft finally taking several steps it should have made several years ago. Better late than never....

Microsoft has created an online training course that details the implications of installing SP2 on Windows XP machines. The course covers the impact on existing applications and includes code samples. (http://msdn.microsoft.com/security/productinfo/XPSP2/default.aspx)

Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net is will not be fully function with this SP. The developer tool's remote debugging feature won't work because of the Firewall. Another MS product that'll break is the .Net Framework. It'll only break in the Itanium and AMD64's with memory protection turned on.