Windows-Help.NET Newsletter 20 March 2004, Vol 7 No. 11

In this issue:

w   Microsoft Realeases Windows XP SP2 RC1
w   Recent Support BBS Postings
w   Web Site Updates
w   Administrivia

Registry Compactor

Microsoft Realeases Windows XP SP2 RC1

by Arie Slob

Hello Windows users,

Windows XP

Last Wednesday, Microsoft shipped the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) to its beta testers.

Today Microsoft announces broad availability of this service pack to its TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers. Microsoft has added a Windows XP Service Pack 2 Technical Preview Program, which is available at a new Microsoft TechNet portal site. The portal will also provide access to a variety of SP2 supporting materials, and newsgroups devoted to sharing information regarding the testing of Windows XP SP2. The download is currently available in English, German, and Japanese (requires an existing installation of Windows XP).

Windows XP SP2 RC1 includes quite a number of changes when compared with the beta (build 2055) released last December, and which I reviewed last January.

The new service pack is huge. The full install (Network) weighs in at 273 MB. According to Microsoft, this is being caused by the fact that a lot of Windows XP code has been re-compiled (re-build), to take advantage of the new programming which includes greater protection against buffer overflows (buffer overflows are a common cause for a great number of the security flaws in Windows XP). This service pack also contains updates for Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) and Tablet PC, which also adds to the size.

Below is a short review of Windows XP SP2 RC1. I've concentrated most on things new & changed since I wrote the previous review on the beta build 2055 last January.

Automatic Updates

Right after installing SP2, and restarting the PC for the first time, you'll get prompted to switch on automatic updates (as did the last beta), the screen has been made a little prettier, and instead of "strongly recommended", the suggestion to turn on Automatic Updates is now "recommended" (Figure). There's also some more explanation for choosing "Not right now", which suggests that your computer will be more vulnerable to viruses and other security threats.

The configuration screen of Automatic Updates (under System in the Control Panel) has also been slightly changed (Figure), with clearer text, and a link to Windows Update for people who want to update manually.

Windows Update v5

With this also comes a new Windows Update Web site (V5, still in testing). The site will detect if Automatic Updates is switched off, and will suggest that you turn the feature on. Windows Update v5 is a nice improvement over the previous Windows Update. There are now two suggested install methods: Express Install (Recommended) and Custom Install (Figure).

The Express Install will only scan for, download and install the critical and security updates needed by your computer. The new Windows Update site should do a better job of detecting which updates are really needed, in an effort to reduce the size of the download, in order to improve the functionality for people that still use a slow (modem) connection.

The Custom Install will also scan for optional updates (besides the critical and security updates), and let you choose & review updates before installing.

Windows Security Center

The most prominent addition is called the "Security Center" (Figure), which can be accessed from the Control Panel (Figure). The Security Center is an effort to combine all monitoring of essential (security) features/services, and provide easy access to information & updates. The Security Center can monitor firewalls, Automatic Updates and anti-virus software, and will pop-up an alert if it finds anything it considers a risk.

All settings controlled by the Security Center can be managed centrally via group policies, which should make SP2 easier to manage in the enterprise.

Internet Explorer

The pop-up blocker added to Internet Explorer is now switched on by default. When you encounter a pop-up (or under) advertisement, a small "Information Bar" will appear under the Internet Explorer address bar, which will advise you that a pop-up was blocked (Figure). If you click on the bar, a menu will open which will let give you several options to choose from (Figure):

  • Allow Pop-ups from This Site
  • Turn Off Pop-up Blocker
  • Turn Off Information Bar for Blocked Pop-ups
  • Pop-up Blocker Settings

Windows Firewall

As mentioned in the previous review, the Internet Connection Firewall has now been renamed to Windows Firewall (Figure). The firewall itself has been further improved, with more easy configurable exceptions (there's an "Add Program" and "Add Port" button) (Figure). There are also more advanced settings that can be configured (Network Settings, Security Logging & ICMP)(Figure).

Other updates

Also integrated in this Service Pack is support for Bluetooth, DirectX 9.0b & Windows Media Player 9.

Security is further enhanced in this service pack in the following ways:

  • Windows Messenger Service is switched off by default. Note: Windows Messenger Service is not Windows Messenger, the instant messaging client in Windows. Windows Messenger Service is a network administration tool that has been exploited by spammers. When the service is off, spammers will not be able to use the feature to send unwanted pop-up ads to users.
  • More secure infrastructure for the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM). More granular COM permissions were created to give administrators the flexibility to control a computer's COM permission policy. These additional access control restrictions will reduce the risk of a successful network attack.
  • Reduction of the attack surface of a Windows XP-based computer while on a network. For example, the Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service will run with reduced privileges and will no longer accept unauthenticated connections by default. (RPC was exploited by the Blaster worm)

It is expected that Microsoft will release at least one more "Release Candidate" (RC2) before it releases SP2, which is expected sometime this summer.

Give your comments on this article.

Recent Support BBS Postings

"SEND TO" anyfolder? - WinXP
What PC to Buy? Dell or HP? - Hardware
Losing Mapped Drives after logoff? - Networking
IE 6.0.28 will not install Flash Player - Internet Explorer
When to Reboot XP - Windows XP

Web Site Updates

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


Updated: TradeTrakker


Windows XP

Added: Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 Release Candidate 1 Review


Newsletter Schedule

Next week I will be travelling from Europe to the USA, to attend the 2004 MVP Global Summit at Microsoft, which will be held April 4-7. The weekend following the summit I'll be travelling back home to Malta. I don't think that my schedule will allow me some time to publish a newsletter when travelling, so you can expect the next newsletter to be published on April 17th.

How to Make Your 802.11b Wireless Home Network More Secure

Wireless networks can be vulnerable to a malicious outsider gaining access because of the default settings on some wireless hardware, the accessibility that wireless networks offer, and present encryption methods.

Read Microsoft Knowledge Base article 309369.

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Microsoft Releases Port Reporter

Port Reporter logs TCP and UDP port activity on a local Windows system. Port Reporter is a small application that runs as a service on Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003.

Supported OS: Windows 2000, Windows NT, Windows Server 2003, Windows XP

More Info
[153 KB]

Windows XP Tip: Hide Users on the Welcome Screen

When you add an account for certain users with Windows XP, their user names will appear on the Welcome Screen. Sometimes a user needs to be added to a Windows XP machine, because the user needs access (via the network) to resources on the machine, but the user will not be physically logging in on the computer. You can remove this users name from the Welcome Screen, while still maintaining the user account.

Read Tip

WindowsMedia: Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

Scooby-Doo is back in action! Microsoft released exclusive Scooby-Doo Plus! Dancers, a Windows Media Player skin, and more free downloads.


Pick the right printer for your Windows XP-based computer

In this column, Sharon Crawford covers how to select a printer to use with your Windows XP-based computer and provide some troubleshooting tips for those of you who are using older printers.

Read Full Article

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