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Microsoft drops eleventh hour app blocking into WinXP

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Although Release Candidate 2 (RC2) of Windows XP is billed as a bug fix, it actually implements a long-promised feature that disables current versions of some users' most trusted software.

At the eleventh hour, Microsoft has turned on "Driver Blocking", and RC2 refuses to install a host of third party applications including Black Ice, Zone Alarm and AOL. Users will need to upgrade their applications to Windows XP-compliant versions.

The authors of BlackIce and ZoneAlarm assured us that versions will be updated to take account of the major networking changes in WinXP.

"We've been working closely with Microsoft - BlackIce is widely used inside Microsoft - in order to make sure it works well," Rob Graham, founder of NetworkIce told us. Graham is chief architect at Internet Security Systems, which acquired NetworkIce in June. Graham said version 3.0 of BlackIce would be released shortly which will be XP compliant.

ZoneLabs, authors of ZoneAlarm, told us that users need to be using 2.6.214 of the software, and ensure they haven't upgraded from Win9x.

Microsoft alerted software authors and device drivers writers to the changes earlier this year that, and this Word document [1.25MB] describes what's necessary. Software needs to carry the XP compliant logo to run.

"That's just the way the world works," shrugged Graham. "When you're working with firewalls you're mucking about with system internals and that's always going to change."

But not everyone's happy.

Several Register readers are alarmed that Microsoft has launched a proscribed list, likening it to the closed world of games consoles.

"If Microsoft got into the business of deciding which programs you may run on your system, that's a pretty scary thing. Most companies don't have the time or resources to go through the 'Microsoft certification' program," writes one concerned reader.

And even though it's doubtless there for the best intentions the move echoes the anticompetitive behavior Microsoft engaged in against Digital Research's [later Novell's] DR-DOS. Users running early versions of Windows on DR-DOS ran into spurious error messages that Microsoft later admitted were generated at the request of product managers to create instability concerns amongst users, where genuine no stability issues existed.

Anxious readers should check the following file in a hex editor in WindowsXP Release Candidate 2: go to \WINNT\AppPatch (or the directory AppPatch under whatever %systemroot% is pointing to) and open the binary file apphelp.sdb. The proscribed applications should be clearly readable.

That's not a misprint:- the file really is called "apphelp".®

Related Story

How MS played the incompatibility card against DR-DOS

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