Windows XP Service Pack 2

If you pay attention to technology in the press then you probably know that Microsoft has released a major upgrade to Windows XP - Service Pack 2 (SP2) but wonder whether or not you should upgrade.

There's no shortage of opinions regarding SP2 and major upgrades to an operating system always carry some risk. That said, most users will be able to (and should) make the transition with little or no inconveniences.

Considering the improvements that SP2 makes to both security and wireless connectivity (two hot topics to be sure) the average user should consider the potential risks worth taking.

On the security front, SP2 offers a new consolidated "Security Center" (located in the Control Panel) that provides a nice overview of your systems security settings, including the current status of most third party anti-virus programs.

The ability to review and revise the triad of security settings (Firewall, Antivirus and Automatic Updates) from this one location will no doubt go a long way toward safer computing for the typical user. The menus are remarkably easy to both use and understand; and for those willing to invest a little time, the descriptions and related help topics are well done.

If you've ever wondered about how secure and up to date your system really is, then the Security Center will provide the answers.

In addition to the usability of the Security Center, the built-in software Firewall is now much easier to use and administer and blocks inbound traffic to most programs until you specifically allow access.

From a user perspective this simply means that the first time a connection is attempted you'll be prompted with a warning, and then can "allow" such communication in the future on a case by case basis. Not only will this provide greater control over your computer, but it also creates a better understanding regarding which programs were previously establishing outside Internet connections without your knowledge.

As for wireless connectivity, SP2 makes navigating and understanding WI-FI connections much easier for the average user with a vastly improved interface. You can finally view available networks, change preferences and settings from one point and again, the user documentation and help files are easier to find and understand.

While the benefits are desirable, users should review the list of programs that might not work after the upgrade, or at least will not work without some special tweaking, at Microsoft's support page:

http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=842242

After that, upgrading is a simple as visiting http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com with Internet Explorer version 5 or later. However, the process is slow, and for those users without reliable broadband connections, ordering the upgrade on CD is probably preferred.

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Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale