XP Service Pack 2 – Biting the Bullet
September 26, 2004
When Microsoft released Service Pack 2 for Windows XP last month, I was characteristically cautious. I’ve been bitten before by toxic Service Packs (granted, mostly on Win2K and NT before it), and I’ve found that it often pays to wait a little while for issues to get ironed out, and to let application, driver and firmware providers have a chance to make any necessary adjustments.
Unfortunately, time and viruses wait for no man. New exploits are arriving or here that make it mandatory to have SP2 and post-SP2 updates in place in order to be safe. Before you do so, however, there are a few things you should take care of.
I installed SP2 on my machines last week, with surprisingly little trouble. It was necessary to go in and adjust XP’s firewall (now on by default) to allow local filesharing, but that was about it.
If you haven’t upgraded to SP2, now is the time. Before you take the leap however, there are a few things you should do first.
- Make a fresh backup—There are few good excuses for not backing up these days. Not long ago, if you had a hard drive of any significant size, backup wasn’t practical. After all—do you back up a 120 gig drive on 200 CDs? Probably not. Tape is expensive, slow, and has its own problems.
Fortunately, big cheap drives and high speed interfaces have given us practical alternatives. If you have a FireWire or USB 2.0 interface on your machine, you can acquire a fairly inexpensive ($150 – $300) 200 – 300 gb external drive that will make backups easy and convenient. Most come with decent backup software, and some even offer a one-touch “backup now” button that you can just press when you walk away from your machine for the night.
If your machine supports USB 2.0 or FireWire, you should consider acquiring one of these at your earliest convenience. If you don’t have USB 2.0 or FireWire, it may be time to look at upgrading your hardware, or adding an interface card that provides one or the other (or both).
In any event, make a fresh backup. While you should be backing up on a set schedule anyway, in general it’s good practice to make a fresh backup before installing significant upgrades to your operating system or critical applications.
- Check your manufacturer’s support sites. If you bought a pre-configured computer (a Dell, an HP, a Gateway, etc.), check the manufacturer’s support pages for your model to see if there are any necessary firmware or driver upgrades you need to make for SP2, and whether they must be installed before or after you install the service pack. If it’s before, do it now. This also gives you a chance to see if there are any big red-flag warnings regarding SP2 on your machine.
If you assembled your own machine, check the component manufacturer’s sites for the same items.
- Check the support sites for any critical applications you run—if there are upgrades or procedures to follow before or after installing the service pack, either take care of it now, or make a note to come back afterwards. If you run Microsoft Office, you want to be very sure that it gets updated too, as your version may be vulnerable to some serious new exploits.
Once these things are taken care of (and you want to do them FIRST—if things go badly wrong, it might be considerably more difficult to take care of them afterwards), it’s time to go to Windows Update and install SP2.
Once you’ve accomplished this successfully, be sure to go back to Windows Update to see if any additional updates are required now that SP2 is installed.