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End is near for XP SP2 download blocker

A tool that blocks the automatic download of Windows XP SP2 is set to expire soon. For IT shops that have yet to deploy SP2, Microsoft is offering some last-minute help.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 is ready for you. Are you ready for it?

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Security has always been important, but this has started to definitely escalate to be one of the most important concerns for IT managers everywhere.

Tony Iams, analyst,

Ideas International

Microsoft's Windows Update or Automatic Update services have only a short time left before the security-focused XP SP2 is automatically downloaded on desktops. To make the transition easier for those who haven't yet put SP2 into production, Microsoft recently updated a tool that checks for compatibility between SP2 and an organization's applications.

The automatic download blocker that Microsoft implemented in August will expire April 12, at which time SP2 will be automatically installed on machines running Windows XP or Windows XP Service Pack 1.

SP2 has generally received good reviews for its ability to better protect desktops from worms and viruses, but it has also drawn some criticism from enterprise users because it interferes with their applications. The updated XP SP2 application testing kit now gives administrators additional information for evaluating how the service pack will work with various applications.

Impact depends on the organization

Industry experts disagree on whether the expiration of the download blocker will have an effect on enterprise systems.

"People that

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have been blocking it before are going to have to install it, and that is overdue," said Tony Iams, senior analyst with Ideas International Ltd., in Port Chester, N.Y. "Security has always been important, but this has started to definitely escalate to be one of the most important concerns for IT managers everywhere."

Iams said that enterprises have had ample time to test the service pack and should be ready to download it if they haven't done so yet. The impact of deployment, he said, will depend on the organization and the applications it runs. The degree of customization is also a factor.

Michael Cherry, a lead analyst at the Directions on Microsoft consulting firm in Kirkland, Wash., said that his group anticipates little enterprise disruption with the expiration of the download blocker.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, in San Jose, Calif., agrees.

"I'm not expecting it to have a huge impact," Enderle said. Most enterprises have already deployed the service pack or have been using machines that restrict others from installing patches without an administrator's approval, he said.

Analysts also agreed that the security benefits of deploying SP2 outweigh any application compatibility issues.

"If people had their choice, would they prefer not to deal with SP2? Of course," said Iams. "But … there's really no choice. It's a requirement, and that's just the reality of living in the Internet world."

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