Windows XP SP2 Hits RC1 Milestone

Windows XP SP2 Hits RC1 Milestone

Mary Jo Foley

Microsoft is broadening its Windows XP Service Pack 2 beta test as of release-candidate 1 (RC1), which the company made available for download on Wednesday evening.

Concurrent with the release of the RC1 bits, Microsoft acknowledged that it is continuing to make feature tweaks to SP2 as it inches toward its mid-year ship date.

Microsoft’s Windows XP SP2 is largely — although not exclusively — a security-oriented update to the now-three-year-old Windows XP client. With SP2, Microsoft is turning on its built-in Windows Firewall by default; including new browser and e-mail safeguards; enhancing XP’s memory protection features, company officials have said.

Microsoft released a first beta of XP SP2 to a selected group of technical beta testers in late December. In February, Microsoft refreshed the beta bits, with Build No. 2082 of the service pack. As with Beta 1, the 2082 refresh was available to a selected group of private testers.

But as of RC1, Microsoft is making the beta available to its core group of technical beta testers, its TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network subscribers; and other IT professionals who participate in its technical-preview program. Greg Sullivan, lead product manager with Microsoft’s Windows division, said the company isn’t sure how many testers will participate in the RC1 test, but that it will be a substantially larger pool than is currently testing the service pack.

TechNet members will be able to download RC1 as of Friday, March 19, through a new TechNet portal at http://www.microsoft.com/sp2preview/.

Microsoft officials said to expect at least one more release candidate build before the service pack goes final.

The RC1 release, Build No. 2096, includes many of the same features that testers began dabbling with in February.

Read More About Build 2082 of the Security Pack Here

Among these are the new “Security Center” interface that Microsoft developed as a result of feedback from testers who participated in the company’s “PC Satisfaction Trial” beta test last year. The Security Center is designed to allow smaller businesses and end users to monitor their antivirus software, firewall settings and Windows Update status.

As with Build 2082, RC1 also includes the beta version of “Lonestar,” which is the version of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system due by mid-year.

The RC1 build also includes a fully security-reviewed and refreshed version of the Windows Media 9 player and updated Windows XP Media Center 2004 supporting bits.

But RC1 also includes some new tweaks and settings that are different from those in earlier beta builds, according to Sullivan. For example, the pop-up blocker that will be built into XP SP2 is turned on by default as of RC1, rather than turned off by default as it was in earlier beta releases. And the Automatic Update feature – which allows users to download and install critical updates automatically – is turned off by default. Microsoft is making it easier for users to opt into Automatic Update by exposing it more plainly, but it is not assuming every user will want to do so, Sullivan explained.

As a complement to its Automatic Update enhancements, Microsoft is adding more granular options to Windows Update on the back-end, Sullivan said. For instance, users will be able to prioritize among the patches they need to download. Sullivan said Microsoft is incorporating “delta-patching” technology into the Windows Update site that will be especially of benefit to users with lower-bandwidth connections who don’t have the time to download the growing number of Windows XP patches – a number of which they may not even need.

Microsoft may have further tweaks up its sleeve, as well. In an online chat on Wednesday, Mike Nash, the head of Microsoft’s security and technology business unit, hinted that Microsoft is working to tighten up the service pack before the final version is released.

In response to a chat participant noting that the latest SP2 builds are big enough to constitute a new operating system, Nash said: “We are working on ways to make it smaller.”

Nash added: “That said, it really is intended to be a service pack. The reason that it’s so large is that we went back and recompiled a lot of the components. The reasons we did that is to get the benefit of the /GS flag to protect against stack overflows.”

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Microsoft Watch.