Windows XP Service Pack Two

Tips & Hints

The update to Windows XP is important and must be installed, but there are some traps.

Updated 7 April 2005

Windows XP Service Pack 2 is a must have for any Windows XP user. But any upgrade carries risks, and this upgrade is bigger than most. To minimise the risks, we've put together our guide to installing Service Pack 2.

SP2's Features

The biggest, and most obvious change is the Windows Security Centre. This includes an improved firewall and a summary of anti virus protection and update status. By default, this will appear as a shield icon alongside the clock.

It should be noted a lot of antivirus detectors are not found by the security centre, falsely claiming that your anti virus is not up to date or doesn't exist. Some products, like Norton Anti-Virus, need a patch for the Security Centre to recognise it. As a consequence, it restricts the usefulness of the anti-virus status indicator.

The built in firewall is a major improvement, having more custom features and being far more manageable than the earlier Windows firewall. It still lacks a number of features and isn't a substitute for most third party firewalls. Like all firewalls it can cause problems for some applications and networks which we'll discuss later.

The other immediate difference is the pop-up and security stoppers in IE. When a pop up first appears, a note will appear asking about the site and the pop-ups. Read the note carefully as some sites will not work properly if you completely disable their pop-ups.

One of the most welcome features is that Internet Explorer will now not just go ahead and install add-on programs without asking. The add-on manager will help control the tidal wave of spyware and browser borne Trojan Horses that curse Internet Explorer users. This feature alone justifies installing Service Pack 2.

Installing SP2

It's important to get this right, SP2 is a huge and complex update. Most people have no problems with the installation, but any upgrade can go badly wrong. The following steps make it more likely the installation will work properly

1. Make all other users are logged off. No programs except the service pack installation should be running.

2. Backup your data. Everything important should be saved. Create a restore point using the System Restore Tool.

3. Remove spyware. This is absolutely essential, it appears many problems with SP2 are spyware related. Run the Microsoft Anti Spyware tool, Spybot AND Adaware before starting the SP2 upgrade.

4. Make sure your anti virus is working and up to date. Scan your computer for viruses. Delete any infected files that are found, and delete any infected items that have been quarantined by your virus checker.

5. Update other software. Printer software and anti virus programs seem to have the worst problems. Visit the manufacturers website to find if your equipment has problems with SP2

6. Note your Internet and Wireless network settings. SP2 can reset these. WEP security is the most likely network item to have problems with SP2.

7. Have all your original installation disks at hand. You may be prompted for serial numbers or you may have to reinstall software after updating. If you have an unauthorised version of XP, you may find the service pack will not install.

8. Utility and security programs can cause a lot of problems for upgrades. Turn off firewalls, spyware stoppers, disk utilities, security software and antivirus programs while installing SP2.

9. Empty your Recycle Bin, temp folder, temporary Internet files and histories before starting the upgrade, you can do this with the Disk Cleanup Tool. This will free up space and reduce the risk of something interfering with your upgrade. It's good practice to run the disk cleanup every few weeks.

10. On installing, check everything. Open important programs, print a few documents, surf to your regularly used websites. Make sure your system is working properly.

Getting the service pack

The service pack should appear in your automatic updates. It is a huge program that will take a long time to download even on a broadband connection. For broadband users on cheap plans, the service pack can easily use up half a month's data allowance.

Microsoft have recognised this problem and have made a CD available free of charge. This can be ordered from Microsoft's website. We recommend dial up users and those on broadband plans with low monthly allowances order the CD.


It appears the biggest problems are where spyware is present on a machine before the upgrade. Service Pack 2 is not alone in this, we see a lot of software with problems due to spyware. We suggest making sure computers are clean before installing any software.

Firewall problems are probably the most common complaint. If you have a firewall program already installed it's best to disable it during the upgrade and turn off the Windows firewall afterwards. Older versions of Zonealarm cause serious problems with SP2, and we would recommend uninstalling them before upgrading.

Antivirus software can cause problems although most problems seem to be where the program is bundled with a firewall. The big commercial products seem to prone to problems. These products may need to be uninstalled and reinstalled if they are giving problems.

Some printers are having problems. If so, visit the manufacturer's website and download the latest drivers. It may be necessary to uninstall the old printer software and reinstall.

One common problem for software is Windows XP"s lock on applications. While the lock feature is a good idea, it can cause problems. If a program does trigger a "lock" then read the instructions in the message closely.

The Windows firewall cam cause problems with networks. For internal networks, you can disable the firewall for the relevant network card. The advanced properties of the firewall allow users to change access restrictions.

We welcome SP2 but think it could have gone further. It is still essential to have a good, up-to-date virus checker, spyware software and to take care when surfing and reading email. We recommend installing it, but you still need to take care while on the net.
PC Rescue Pty Ltd, Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
Phone 0415 967 017
ACN 082 635 765
ęPC Rescue Pty Ltd, 2005