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Get-Out-the-SP2 Effort Continues at Microsoft

Amid all the industry-shaking security moves Microsoft unveiled last week, the company also updated its progress on distributing Windows XP Service Pack 2 -- its most far-reaching effort to date to improve the security of the average computer on the Internet.

"We've got 170 million people who did the automatic download and more people who have taken the CDs and installed those very broadly, so that's a very significant amount of updating," Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said during his RSA Conference keynote last week.

The statement paled in comparison to Gates' other disclosures last week -- Internet Explorer 7.0 will come before Windows "Longhorn," Microsoft AntiSpyware will be free, the company will offer an anti-virus product by the end of this year and the Microsoft Update and Windows Update Services infrastructures are nearly ready.

But while those announcements are roiling the $10-billion security industry, Microsoft's greatest potential for improving security comes from its effort to raise the protections on the 90 percent or more of personal computers running Windows software worldwide. Viruses, malware, trojans and zombie network schemes thrive on the massive global installed base of broadband-connected Windows computers unprotected by firewalls or anti-virus software.

Microsoft is distributing Windows XP SP2 in a number of ways -- through Automatic Updates, through Windows Update, at the Microsoft Download Center, by distributing CDs and by including SP2 by default in new versions of Windows.

The update in the Gates keynote was the first since Microsoft reported in October that more than 106 million copies of SP2 went out in the first two months of availability, surpassing a publicly stated goal of distributing 100 million copies. At the time, IDC analyst Al Gillen estimated there were 255 million copies of Windows XP on the market, giving SP2 a penetration a little higher than 40 percent.

Using Gates' new figure, Microsoft has distributed 65 million more copies of SP2 in the following four months. Assuming the company sold another 25 million to 30 million new Windows XP licenses with SP2 over that same period means the company is still pushing the service pack heavily outside of new sales -- and may have distributed the bits to nearly 60 percent of Windows XP users.

Not all the service packs Microsoft distributed are installed -- actual deployment seems a bit slower. Corporations, for example, are rolling SP2 out at their own pace. Microsoft says it surveyed 800 enterprise customers recently and received commitments from 77 percent to deploy SP2 over the next six months. High-profile examples include Merrill Lynch, which is deploying SP2 to 50,000 desktops by mid-year and law firm Holland + Knight, which has already deployed SP2 to 3,500 PCs.

Industry observers generally approved of Microsoft's efforts to secure Windows XP with free security enhancements, although many found fault with the company's decision to limit the security upgrades only to users of Windows XP. Microsoft, however, remains intent on focusing its best effort to improve client security on Windows XP. Evidence came in the announcement last week that the new security-focused upgrade of Internet Explorer, version 7.0, would only be available for customers running Windows XP SP2. The rest of Microsoft's customers -- the total number of PCs running Windows lies somewhere between 600 million and 700 million, according to Microsoft -- must fend for themselves or pay for the upgrade to XP.

Meanwhile, Gates vowed Microsoft will keep pushing SP2 out to Windows XP users. "On a weekend, if you look out on the Internet and see the activities that are going on, you have about half the users connecting up to Web sites who are using SP2," Gates said, citing research by WebSideStory. "That's a good number. But over the next year, we need to drive that number up to be almost all of those users."

About the Author

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

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