Microsoft is due to publish critical updates for Office and MSN Messenger when it delivers its next batch of security updates next Tuesday (12 April). Five patches addressing flaws in Windows and an update for Microsoft Exchange will also feature in Microsoft's plans to deliver a total of eight patches next week.
Next Tuesday marks the expiry of a Windows XP SP2 blocker tool. When Microsoft released SP2 in August 2004 it offered firms the opportunity to "hold off" the automatic installation of SP2 while still receiving security patches for eight months. That suspension expires on 12 April. Janet Gibbons, Windows client product manager, said that because most corporates used their own deployment tools to impact of the automatic delivery of SP2 via Microsoft's Automatic Update service would "not be huge".
"SP2 brings significant security enhancements but we never expected it to be deployed overnight. We understand the need for application compatibility testing. The decision when to deploy SP2 is up to individual companies," she said.
A recent survey by asset management firm AssetMetrix suggests that only a quarter of corporate PCs running Windows XP have upgraded to SP2 (Service Pack 2). AssetMetrix surveyed more than 136,000 PCs across 251 North American corporations and found only 24 per cent of Windows XP PCs had been upgraded to SP2.
So are corporates (and consumers) baulking at SP2 deployment despite its heavily-touted security benefits? Not so says Gibbons who cites a recent Microsoft survey of 800 firms which found that 77 per cent planned to deploy SP2 in the first half of 2005. "The deployment of SP2 in the home market is even higher. In December 2004, 68 per cent of consumers using XP had installed SP2," she said.
Microsoft was not immediately able to say just how many people have downloaded SP2 thus far but Gibbons promised to have a look for this information. Principal additions with Windows XP SP2 include: Windows Security Centre; automatically turning on Windows Firewall; and browsing enhancements to Internet Explorer (providing far more control of ActiveX controls, for example). The release also offers revamped memory protection to prevent buffer overruns, the perennial source of so many security problems. This feature is only available when supported in microprocessor design. ®