Users stall in testing Win XP Service Pack

Say security-focused update adds too much

Microsoft Corp. last week sent beta testers the latest trial version of its Windows XP Service Pack 2, but so far some of them have balked at testing the updates.

Eight of 12 users with at least partial XP deployments contacted by Computerworld last week said they had yet to begin evaluating the security-focused service pack due this summer -- one that's been highly promoted by Microsoft and that contains a lot more code than previous service packs have delivered.

"We're concerned about testing because we know it's not just patching that they're putting in there," said Bill Lewkowski, CIO at Metropolitan Health Corp. in Grand Rapids, Mich. "It just seems that Microsoft doesn't quite understand how difficult this is to do."

Unlike traditional Windows service packs, SP2 doesn't simply roll up bug fixes that have come out since the prior release. It also includes new security features and enhancements designed to combat the spate of viruses and other threats that have hit the operating system. Other additions include a new Media Player and DirectX components.

"I almost prefer just fixes, because if they start putting in new functionality that developers have to test their code against, it adds a lot of complexity for us," said Randy Truax, a technical services manager at Metropolitan Health.

About 15 months ago, Metropolitan Health migrated 1,300 users to Windows XP and later upgraded to SP1. Such moves are costly and time-consuming, in part because the organization has more than 400 Windows-based applications to test.

"We can't do unplanned, unbudgeted service pack releases that are very similar to putting in a whole new version of an operating system," said Lewkowski. "I'm frustrated with Microsoft."

But Matt Pilla, a senior product manager at Microsoft, said users don't need to view SP2 as a "whole new version" of XP. He said it will be a significant amount of code and a large download, but it builds on the existing operating system. Pilla was unable to provide an estimate of SP2's size.

One company engaged in an enterprisewide upgrade from Windows 2000 to XP is so confident about SP2 that it will soon have 1,100 PCs with Release Candidate 1 and 100 with the new Release Candidate 2. The CIO, who declined to be named due to the confidentiality requirements of Microsoft's early-adopter program, said the update files and executables for RC2 are 280MB, but what his company normally distributes to users via Microsoft's Systems Management Server is much smaller.

"We have been comfortable deploying the SP updates via SMS automated updates, which don't require PC workstation visits to install," the CIO said.

Pilla said the technical preview program has drawn an "incredible response," and the size of the SP2 download will vary based on customer needs. Since SP2 is a "smart download," only pieces that differ from what a customer already runs will be installed, he said. Users of SP1, for instance, won't need to download the fixes that it had bundled.

Several corporate users said they have either deployed SP1 or are deploying it as they bring in new PCs. But many still have mixed environments with a variety of older Windows versions.

Dave Chacon, technology services manager at golf club maker Ping Inc., a subsidiary of Karsten Manufacturing Corp., said 20% of the company's 500 desktops run Windows XP SP1. Another 50% have Windows NT4, 20% Windows 98, and 10% Windows 2000. Phoenix-based Ping plans to deploy XP SP1 to all desktops by summer's end.

But Chacon said Ping will wait at least six months to deploy SP2, since it anticipates that bugs will be discovered soon after its release. "We consider XP SP2 to be a major release because of the nature of the enhancements. XP SP2 is not simply an OS bug-fix release," he said. "Operating systems have reached a level of complexity that makes testing them for all possible configurations prior to general release difficult."

First American Title Insurance Co. in Santa Ana, Calif., is excited about the new firewall and spam filter and plans to deploy SP2 as soon as its testing is completed, according to Scott Campbell, director of IT operations. But the company hasn't starting testing and is concerned about getting the configuration correct across more than 20,000 desktops.

"We don't want to negatively impact the user communities' ability to access appropriate resources," Campbell said.

Application breakage is a major concern for corporate users. But Keith Templin, a systems engineer at Cardinal Health Inc. in Dublin, Ohio, said his company has encountered no problems while beta-testing SP2. An IT manager at a large insurance company, who asked not to be named, also said that her company has had no problems, although it's anticipating some difficulty with NetMeeting and Windows Messenger.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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