2162 – Very close to perfect

Microsoft Windows XP

Today I finally installed Windows XP Service Pack 2 Release Candidate 2 Build 2162. Whew! That description’s a mouthful. A simpler one might be: the last public beta version before Microsoft sends off the final code to manufacturing prior to commercial release next month.

I installed it on a test laptop – Toshiba 5105-S701, P4-M 1.8Ghz, 1Gb RAM, 64Mb video RAM, Win XP Pro SP1. Bottom line: it installs very simply on a relatively-modern laptop (less than 2 years old) that you’d use in a typical business or home environment. That means that when SP2 is out, just about anyone with a PC built within the last 2 years should be able to easily upgrade their Windows XP installation – just stick the CD in the CD drive, click a couple of buttons and away you go.

Having run a number of the previous beta builds – most recently 2149, as commented on in a recent post – I would say that Build 2162 is very close to being ready for release. Now, I’m not going to give a technical commentary here; rather, quick impressions of how Build 2162 installed and how it behaves.

Installation was very simple, if time consuming (almost 45 minutes) as it backs up existing system files so that you can uninstall the service pack if you want to. Microsoft’s recommendation was to uninstall any previous beta before installing this build which I did, adding probably 10 minutes to the overall installation time. With the release version, all you would do is just install the upgrade. Hopefully, Microsoft will have been able to reduce the overall install time, although that will likely depend on your particular computer configuration.

I had no issues at all during the beta installation, which is what I expected with a build so close to final. I was especially pleased to see that the display problems I had with previous builds (12-pixel-wide black stripe at the right of the screen) had been fixed with 2162. And, Paint Shop Pro 8.10 did not freeze or crash at all this time. I have had no issues with any applications on this laptop, which include many of the typical programs you’d see business people using, eg, Microsoft Office 2003 (the lot), SQL Server 2000, iScala 2.2 ERP, Roxio Easy CD Creator 5.3, PowerDVD 5, Camtasia, Apreso, etc.

For many users, the major benefit of SP2 will be the much improved security features added into the operating system. Managing things like firewall settings, updates and anti-virus protection are done through a new Security Center module within the control panel. This is very well implemented and makes it extremely easy to not only manage such settings but also clearly understand what they mean and how to make changes. Far simpler and easier than in the current Windows XP. Kudos to Microsoft for making this critical part of the operating system easier for anyone to understand. The new wireless networking wizard makes it a real breeze to configure your wireless network if you need to: my wireless network worked exactly as before once build 2162 was installed.

There are plenty of detailed reviews around about SP2 including some of the enhancements to Internet Explorer (see links below for some examples). So if you want more detail, take a look at those.

There are a couple of oustanding items, however, that I think need some final polish before SP2 is released:

  1. Security Center still doesn’t recognize Norton Anti-Virus configuration. This happened with previous builds where the Security Center alert would advise that NAV couldn’t report its status. This was supposed to be fixed by now, so hopefully will be by the time of release.
  2. Security settings might affect TCP/IP config by limiting the number of concurrent TCP connect attempts. I’ve read a few articles about this in the past few days, notably this one at Warp2Search.net via Bink.nu.

All in all, though, Windows XP Service Pack 2 will be an essential upgrade for any XP user to get. No clear word yet on how widely Microsoft intend to distribute SP2 in addition to download options (beta build 2162 is nearly 270Mb with an ‘express’ install option at about 100Mb), but expect it to be a lot easier to get hold off than SP1.