Windows XP Service Pack 2 is both something companies must install as soon as possible and something they must approach with extreme caution, according to analysts.

Organizations must approach the service pack with the care they would use with a new release of Windows and test it thoroughly

before they deploy it, says Rob Enderle, a principal analyst with San Jose, Calif.-based Enderle Group. Previous service packs were an amalgamation of all of the critical patches that had come out since the last service pack or OS release and might also include drivers to support new hardware. Window XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), on the other hand, includes many new security features, including a firewall that is turned on by default, and which could, as a result, render some programs inoperable.

It’s a big piece of code, Enderle says, and this means companies must test the SP2 thoroughly before they implement it.

However, they can’t take their time with it, as they could with a new release of Windows, as many of the patches are critical, he says.

“”This is probably one of the few service packs that have come out which is absolutely critical because it addresses so many security concerns,”” Enderle says.

Companies need to treat SP2 as they would a new release of Windows, says Michael Cherry, a lead analyst for Windows and mobile devices at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft.

Users “”need to treat it as they would a full release of a new product and test it completely and thoroughly.””

That’s what Faye West, the director of information systems at the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton, has been doing. She has tested the beta version and the firewall has caused some problems, she says. West’s concerns aren’t unique. Cherry says the firewall is one element causing problems with the program.

“”We had a problem with it locking some of our management programs, and what we’re looking at doing is installing the service pack, but turning off the firewall by default,”” West says. As the Alberta Research Council already has ZoneAlarm on all of its laptops and home computers, the firewall is unnecessary, she says.

SP2 is a step towards making Windows more secure, but there is still a lot to be done, she says.

“”Security is not something you can get to and then stop,”” says West. “”It’s not a goal, it’s a journey. So, obviously, this is not enough. (Microsoft) has to keep on working towards a more secure environment.””

Like West, Leigh Popov, the manager of technical services and telecommunications at The Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont., has been testing the beta version of the software. So far, his company hasn’t experienced any compatibility issues with any applications it uses. His one concern is both Internet Explorer and one other application take longer to open — about five or six seconds longer. This is a concern, as the physicians Popov’s IT department serves aren’t very patient, he says.

“”But the benefits outweigh these couple of things,”” he says.

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