Windows-Help.NET Newsletter 10 Jan. 2004, Vol 7 No. 1

In this issue:

w   Windows XP SP2 Beta Review
w   Recent Support BBS Postings
w   Administrivia

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Windows XP SP2 Beta Review

by Arie Slob

Hello Windows users,

Windows XP Microsoft recently released the first beta of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP to testers. Over the holidays I installed it on two systems, and checked it out.

SP2 promises to enhance the security of Windows XP, mainly by switching on a Windows Firewall (formerly known as Internet Connection Firewall), and the configuration of Automatic Updates.

Automatic Updates

The first thing you'll see after installing this Service Pack is a blue screen (Figure) telling you that in order to protect your PC, you should switch on Automatic Updates. Only two choices are offered:

  1. Yes, help me protect my PC by automatically downloading and installing updates (strongly recommended)
  2. Ask me again later

If you choose Ask me again later you'll get another screen telling you We strongly recommend that you turn on Automatic Updates now, and some explanation why you should do just that.

The configuration screen of Automatic Updates (under System Properties) has also been slightly changed (Figure). Instead of three options it now offers four, but they are the same options, just represented more clearly with an option I don't want automatic updates. Don't notify me of important updates for my computer replacing the old check-box Keep my computer up to date.

Automatic Updates is set by default to the first option: Update my computer automatically at scheduled times. Install new updates: Every day at 03:00. Maybe it would be better if you would be asked to specify a time. Many people switch off their computers at night, and this may prevent patches from being downloaded (although I haven't tested this).

If you don't choose to have Automatic Updates switched on, it seems to keep the settings you had previously (I had mine set to I just want to be notified of new updates. Don't download or install them for me).

Windows Firewall

The Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) will in the future be known as Windows Firewall. In this beta, it is still referred to as ICF. To provide better protection for computers connected to any kind of network (such as the Internet, or a home network), SP2 enables ICF on all network connections by default. The default setting offers a decent level of protection, and shouldn't cause problems connecting over networks (both local & Internet). There's a second setting called On with no exceptions (figure). This setting blocks ALL outside connections to your computer. Microsoft advises to use this setting "when connecting to a wireless network in less secure locations such as restaurants, hotels, and airports".

The new firewall is also more configurable. For example the Exceptions tab (Figure) lets you add/remove programs & services that require connections from outside sources, while the Network Connections tab (Figure) lists all your configured network connections, and let you disable/enable protection per network connection just by checking/un-checking a checkbox.

The firewall settings can also be reached more easily, by just right-clicking the connections icon in the notification area and choosing Configure Internet Connection Firewall from the menu.

Pop-up blocker

Internet Explorer (finally) gets a pop-up blocker. When you first visit a Web site that tries to pop a window on you, you will be asked if you want to switch on IE's pop-up manager (Figure). The pop-up manager can be either switched on/off from the Tools menu directly (Figure), or by going to the Privacy tab on the Internet Options dialog (Figure). You can also set additional options, such as allowing certain sites to serve pop-up windows, or to have Windows alert you by a sound that a pop-up was blocked. You can then use an icon on the Internet Explorer toolbar to show that pop-up window anyway, or place the site to your "allow" list, so it will be able to show you pop-ups (Figure). This can be particularly helpful on banking Web sites, which sometimes use pop-up windows to show you additional information.

Other Security Enhancements

The Windows Messenger service (not to be confused with the instant messaging client Windows Messenger), is disabled by default in SP2. The Windows Messenger service has been the target of spam pop-ups for more than a year, and there are also some concerns that this service could be exploited by hackers.

Outlook Express will no longer download external content (such as images) in HTML email by default (just like Outlook), which will help reduce spam & the proliferation of malware & worms.

Attached files (to email of Messenger) will also be treated as dangerous by default and only allowed to execute with limited permissions.

The latest versions of Windows Media Player 9 and DirectX 9.0b are also included; both versions contain the latest security fixes.

Other areas that are improved are the Remote Procedure Call service in Windows, widely known when it was targeted by the MS Blaster worm last year. This service no longer accepts unauthenticated connections.

For a more in-depth view on SP2, read this Microsoft TechNet article: Changes to Functionality in Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 will be released around the summer of this year.

Recent Support BBS Postings

Poll: What is your primary OS?

Problems with sfc /scannow command - Windows XP
Slowdown after conversion to ntfs - General Discussions
What did I do??? Fonts are HUGE!! - Internet Explorer
Dual boot into W2K from GRUB - Windows 2000 / 2003
Install programs for selective users? - Windows XP

Web Site Updates

These pages were added/updated in the past weeks. Information on previously updated/added pages is available on the What's New? page for 1 month.

Updated: Problems Accessing Windows Update

Added: Downshift
Updated: LinkStash
Added: New 3D Screensavers


Updated: Remove Advertising from MSN Messenger 6.1

Windows XP

Added: Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 Beta Review
Updated: Windows XP Patch: Inconsistent Gap Count Can Cause 1394 Devices to Not Enumerate


Blaster Worm Removal Tool for Windows XP and Windows 2000

A situation has been identified where the Blaster worm could have infected some systems before the application of MS03-026. This tool will help remove the Blaster worm from these systems. For systems with MS03-026 or MS03-039 already installed, no further action is needed once this tool is installed. Install this tool to help remove this worm from your PC.

Download [English, 317 KB]
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Office 2003/XP Add-in: Remove Hidden Data

With this add-in you can permanently remove hidden and collaboration data, such as change tracking and comments, from Word 2003/XP, Excel 2003/XP, and PowerPoint 2003/XP files.

Supported Operating System: Windows XP

Download [230 KB]
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Windows 98 support shifts to CD

When Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows 98 support next Friday, it will offer a free CD designed to help users "make the most" of the aging operating system, without any further assistance from the software giant.

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Free Software: ZipItFast!

ZipitFast is a windows drag-and-drop utility for quick viewing, running, extracting, adding, and deleting files in archives. ZipitFast supports virtually all compression formats including Zip, Exe, Tar, Cab, gZip, Lha, Ace, Rar and over 20 additional formats.

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