Microsoft Clarifies XP SP2 Rollout Schedule

Microsoft will begin distribution of Windows XP Service Pack 2 to individual PCs through the Automatic Update feature of Windows Update on Aug. 16, company executives said Wednesday.

The company also released a tool for blocking Automatic Update from automatically installing Windows XP SP2 to give IT administrators a way to exercise control over the timing of their internal rollouts.

Windows XP SP2 is Microsoft's most significant service pack in memory, with the hundreds of bug fixes playing a secondary role to the major security feature enhancements that Microsoft is building into the operating system through the service pack.

After many delays, Microsoft released SP2 to manufacturing on Friday. MSDN subscribers and some technical beta testers received the final bits immediately. On Monday, Microsoft posted a network installation version of the service pack designed for IT administrators who would be distributing the service pack to multiple machines over a network. But the company urged users not to download the network installation version to update individual machines. Instead the company encouraged users looking to upgrade individual machines to wait for the Automatic Update version.

SP2 was posted to Automatic Update on Tuesday for customers who already had Release Candidate or other pre-release versions of SP2 installed. The general Automatic Update rollout will occur next Monday, however. Also on Monday, Microsoft will release SP2 for Software Update Services. The service pack will be available as an optional install on Windows Update at some point later in the month.

During a Webcast to discuss SP2 and the Microsoft security bulletins for August, a Microsoft representative took a question from a participant who was angry about Microsoft's decision to begin distributing the update through Automatic Update with only six days notice for IT organizations to get prepared.

"A lot of hand-wringing was associated with this," Barry Goffe, group product manager for Windows client marketing, said on the Webcast of the decision and discussions inside Microsoft. Goffe apologized to the IT audience and explained that Microsoft was attempting to balance the needs of enterprise customers who are trying to manage rollouts with the needs of the huge installed base of consumers who need to get their systems secure as quickly as possible.

During the Webcast, Goffe and other Microsoft representatives detailed a tool that will allow IT to configure Automatic Update to prevent PCs in their organizations from downloading Windows XP SP2.

"Since SP2 will start to be delivered to PCs running Windows XP or Windows XP with SP1 via [Automatic Update] starting on Aug. 16, these customers would like to temporarily block the delivery of SP2 in order to provide additional time for validation and testing of the update. In response to these requests, Microsoft is providing the following guidance, resources, and communication vehicles to meet the needs of these customers," Microsoft said in the introduction to the Web document detailing the tool. The document is available here. The tool will disable the installation of Windows XP SP2 for 120 days.

The flexibility afforded organizations in the tool is especially important because of the many changes in Windows XP SP2 that can cause applications to break. Major applications that experienced problems with Windows XP Service Pack 2 so far have included SQL Server and the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE), Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, Microsoft CRM, Microsoft's Halo video game and several third-party firewalls.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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