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Microsoft is to allow organisations to defer the adoption of Windows XP SP2 ahead of its widespread availability though Automatic Update and Windows Update starting next Monday (16 August).

The approach allows corporates to delay the installation of XP SP2 while still allowing them to obtain other security updates automatically from Microsoft. The move - which lets companies carry out extra testing and validation work - follows the decision of key MS OEM IBM to hold off on deployment of XP SP2.

Companies following the same policy have one of several options: use a downloadable executable to change registry settings on PCs; apply Group Policy template to Active Directory or use a sample email text that includes a URL link that users can "click on to disable delivery of Windows XP SP2". This latter option gives us the fear since it’s easy to see how it could be mimicked by virus writers in order to direct users towards maliciously constructed websites.

Microsoft's recommended option is for companies to use corporate update management applications such as its own Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 or Software Update Services (SUS) to control the deployment of patches. In this scenario, patches are downloaded onto local servers and their application managed by local administrators.

However companies achieve it the mechanism to temporarily disable delivery of Windows XP SP2 will only be available for a period of 120 days from 16 August. By mid-December, Windows XP SP2 will be delivered to all Windows XP and Windows XP Service Pack 1 systems. Users still reluctant to deploy XP SP2 after then will have to stop using automatic updates.

The release, which made its debut as a beta back in March, bundles major security revisions and a new Windows update procedure.

Principal additions with Windows XP SP2 include: Windows Security Centre; automatically turning on Windows Firewall; and browsing enhancements to Internet Explorer (providing far more control of ActiveX controls, for example). Less mentioned so far, but arguably more important, is revamped memory protection to prevent buffer overruns, the perennial source of so many security problems. ®

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Temporarily disabling delivery of Windows XP Service Pack 2 through Windows Update and Automatic Updates

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