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Download Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2)

Microsoft Service Pack 2 for Windows XP is available for people to download and install on their systems. The XP SP2 file, at just over 250 Megs, is a hefty download yet is packed with new updates well worth getting (Microsoft will allow people to order a CD with it on in due course).

The install took about 5-10 minutes, yet clearly this figure will vary from system to system. After installing and rebooting XP asked me to turn on automatic updates (even before reaching windows). An excellent move on Microsoft's behalf, and one that serves to highlights a growing commitment to security and user safety. On the first run, Microsoft also loads up the new Security Center. The Security Center monitors your Antivirus, Firewall, and Auto Update situation. If it detects anything that is potentially damaging or hazardous, it will prompt you with a warning and give you advice on how to resolve the issue. Microsoft has saved a lot of hassle for users in that if you have Zone Alarm installed, they leave the Windows Firewall off to prevent conflicts.

Less importantly for a Firefox user like me, Internet Explorer has been updated (screenshot)and the new features seem helpful. As well as a new version of IE, Outlook Express, Microsoft's free mail client bundled with Windows has been updated with better protection against email spread viruses and worms. I spent a few hours using the improved browser and it does seems somewhat nippier than before. With additions like pop-up blocking, IE becomes a slightly more attractive prospect. However, it still lacks features like tabbed browsing and standards compliancy that make some of the new features moot points. To really start winning back people, Microsoft need to get IE 7 out the door with these features (Before longhorn though?). I'd like to say i was impressed, but IE in SP2 is playing catch up, not adding features.

Microsoft have also updated the wireless capabilities with SP2, which in previous service packs have been dubious at best. The new wireless network setup wizard (screenshot) allows users to easily deploy and manage networks, and at first glance appears to be reasonably effective. Asides from these major additions, there are many more subtle changes that XP SP2 has brought in (NX code, improved security and stability). The No eXecute technology will allow users with AMD chips to have a bit more protection against nasty bits of code, yet the true extent that it will protect it's users is really un-known; it currently seems to be more of a PR thing than anything else. Intel / no NX chip enabled users will benefit from what could be described as a "toned down" software version of NX, called DEP (Data Execution Prevention - screenshot).

As a user, my computer does seem to be doing tasks a bit faster than before; basic tasks like loading up explorer windows or getting desktop properties up are definitely going faster than under SP1. The only minor problem in encountered with SP2 was to do with MS Messenger. XP re-installed MS Messenger (to be expected) after I’d previously removed it, and on rebooting post install continued to load it up even though MSN Messenger is running! Silently wasting 5 megs of Ram, it's annoying and something Microsoft doesn't seem to want to tackle! However, it's thankfully removable. I haven't had any of the problems that a few people have mentioned, and would thus recommend SP2 to all. To people who might have had bad experiences with earlier beta releases of the service pack, I'd urge them to try the final version, which is (somewhat obviously) substantially more polished than the betas. You can download it at the links below.