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Windows XP SP2 RC1 Adds Features

Microsoft made a lot of changes to Windows XP Service Pack 2 between the beta stage in December and the Release Candidate 1 version that became widely available for download last week.

Most of the changes involve security, which makes sense because Windows XP SP2 is primarily a security overhaul of the Windows XP client operating system. But a few new features found their way into the service pack's first release candidate.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 includes several core enhancements over the base operating system for security. The biggest changes are to the firewall, which is now on by default and offers much more granular controls. Called the Internet Connection Firewall when it was released as part of Windows XP, the SP2 version is called the Windows Firewall. Other security changes to Windows XP that were present in the SP2 beta included pop-up ad blocking and Internet file download blocking.

Release Candidate 1 takes some beta features a step further. On the firewall, Microsoft made it possible for users with several network interfaces to have global firewall settings that apply to all connections. Central enterprise management of Windows Firewall settings is also now possible through Active Directory Group Policy.

The new Pop-up Blocker in Internet Explorer is now turned on by default. "Microsoft decided to change the default setting after receiving significant customer feedback about the Web browsing experience," the company said in a statement. The company says it won't break line-of-business applications and intranet sites because pop-ups aren't blocked in IE's "Local intranet" zone.

Windows Messenger Service, the seldom used network admin tool that spammers have abused, is disabled by default in RC1.

A download blocker is taking shape in Internet Explorer. Now when a Web site attempts to download files, the files are automatically blocked. Users who decide they do want to download the files can click a link below the browser toolbar. This is another feature that Microsoft has made centrally manageable through Group Policy.

Completely new to RC1 is the Windows Security Center -- a feature found in the Windows XP Control Panel that shows customers the status of the Windows Firewall, Automatic Update and third-party anti-virus software. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates introduced that technology at the RSA Security Conference last month in San Francisco. (See story). Enterprises will be able to manage the Windows Security Center centrally via Active Directory Group Policy.

Windows Update also underwent revisions that customers will be able to test with the release candidate version of Windows XP SP2. Windows Update V5 Release Candidate 1 is supposed to be easier to use and better at discovering the most important security updates. The new version of SP2 is supposed to make it move convenient to enable Automatic Update. Microsoft also plans to ship the Windows Update Service with Windows XP Service Pack 2. (See story).

While Microsoft earlier announced plans to offer the 1.1 release of the .NET Framework as an optional download with Windows XP SP2, Microsoft unveiled several other technology options coming with SP2. They include updated support for Bluetooth and a unified wireless LAN client to make it easier to connect to wireless hot spots. The service pack also includes upgrades for customers with earlier versions of specialized versions of Windows XP. Windows XP Media Center Edition users can upgrade through SP2 to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. Users of the Tablet PC edition can upgrade to RC1 of the next version, code-named "LoneStar," with SP2.

Windows XP SP2 RC1 is available for download at www.microsoft.com/sp2preview/.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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