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Consumers will be offered a major upgrade of Windows XP after Microsoft releases Service Pack 2 through Windows Update later this week.

The 272MB enterprise version of SP2 was released earlier this month and a smaller consumer version - weighing in at around 80MB - was due to be released via Windows Update yesterday (16 August), the BBC reports. This automatic delivery has now been put back until tomorrow (18 August). SP2 was due to debut last year, so a couple of extra days wait will hardly make much difference.

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.

Consumers should note that some programs will 'stop working' after they install Windows XP Service Pack 2. With SP2, Windows Firewall is enabled by default and will block unsolicited connections to your computer. So users will have to make exceptions in the case on AV software, network games and a variety of other popular packages (including some published by Microsoft). Microsoft has published a list here.

This factor is there by design so it's of greater concern that a number of different applications "behave differently" after users install Win XP SP2. Games, third party firewall products and several popular business programs clash with Win XP SP2. The extensive list includes games like Unreal Tournament, McAfee VirusScan 7, Adobe PageMaker 7, backup programs, Zone Alarm personal firewall and even some flavours of Microsoft's own Office applications. More than 200 applications with compatibility problems with Win XP SP2 are listed.

These glitches are far wider in scope than the occasional problems that surface when users install personal firewalls. And it's not just shrink-wrapped applications that are affected.

eBay has posted a notice saying that some of the features of its eBay Toolbar program will cease to function after users install SP2. Meanwhile XP SP2 users are completely locked out of eBay's Enhanced Picture Services. eBay is working with Microsoft on addressing the problems it has unearthed.

Little wonder then that companies like IBM are holding off from deploying SP2 despite the considerable security improvements it offers. Consumers might well be inclined to follow suit. Those who push ahead with XP SP2 are advised to buckle in for what promises to be a bumpy ride. ®

Related stories

WinXP SP2: stop moaning and get downloading
Corporates can delay XP SP2 auto-update
How to order WinXP SP2 now
Should XP pirates get SP2?
MS bigs up Windows XP SP2

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