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XP SP2 gets an IT thumbs-up -- so far

Many IT administrators say they don't expect perfection from Microsoft's latest desktop offering, so early reports of flaws in the service pack aren't fazing them.

The newest version of Windows XP isn't perfect, but many IT administrators say they are generally happy with the changes, despite the hype about newly discovered flaws and its potential for breaking applications.

Overall, administrators and experts say XP Service Pack 2 is much improved, and they accept that there will be some difficulties, as there would be with any major piece of new software.

"We are happy for the stronger security," said George Defenbaugh, manager of global IT infrastructure projects at Amerada Hess Corp., the New York-based fuel company and refinery. "We know it will alter and break things, and we are not unhappy about it. It's just a matter of testing."


With a product as big as [XP SP2], is it going to be perfect? Come on!
David Driggers,  Alabama Gas Corp.,
said he isn't sure if the XP SP2 firewall is strong enough for his liking because it only blocks inbound traffic. By blocking outbound traffic, it could help prevent spyware from adhering to the desktop. Nevertheless, the company will roll out XP SP2 to a limited number of end users this year.

Alabama Gas Corp. IT experts are also taking the news about XP SP2's early troubles in stride. David Driggers, an IT asset manager and desktop deployment team leader, said he is planning to install XP SP2 on some of the Birmingham-based utility's user desktops next year.

Driggers said he has tested the new desktop software with several of his applications, and so far so good. The company will start a more rigorous test phase in September.

The early flaws don't bother Driggers. "We find them and we will find workarounds or get them fixed," he said. "With a product as big as [XP SP2], is it going to be perfect? Come on!"

Bill Arrington, a network administrator for Children's Hospital in Boston, said he too is in the early testing phase with some of his applications. Provided there aren't any major problems, the hospital will roll out the service pack to users in about a month. "Any service pack will have bugs," Arrington said. "By the time we roll it out, most of them will probably be caught.

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anytime, Arrington said, so he knows the importance of regular patching. Some workstations at the hospital were hit by the Blaster worm about a year ago, and for Arrington, it was an eye-opening experience. The servers were quickly patched using desktop management software.

"If there is a security risk, Microsoft has been timely about getting their patches out," Arrington said.

The XP SP2 package as a whole -- with the fixes and security improvements -- is a significant improvement, no question, said Microsoft security expert and author Brett Hill, of Boulder, Colo.

"There are some bumps in the road with something this ambitious on the part of Microsoft, but there is no way they can cover every possible circumstance," Hill said. "And it's a Catch-22 for them. If they are aggressive, they get nailed because it's not perfect, or they get nailed because they are not aggressive."

Hill said IT administrators should expect some glitches, but nothing beyond what they would normally encounter. "You can't hold this kind of update up to a standard of perfection," he said.

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