Looking at Enterprise Deployments of Windows XP SP2 and SharePoint Technologies

Last month, I discussed several topics in my commentary, "A Collection of IT Tidbits" (see the first URL below), and asked readers to provide feedback about their experiences rolling out or evaluating Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) as well as SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) and Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), which provide Windows Server-based collaborative environments for Microsoft Office users. As always, Windows IT Pro UPDATE readers provided a wealth of valuable feedback. Here's what you had to say.

XP SP2 Rollout: What's the Delay?
Almost 2 months after Microsoft started distributing XP SP2, a startling number of enterprises have still not rolled out XP's most significant update. Part of the reason, of course, is that most businesses need to test updates carefully, and Microsoft has done such an effective job of communicating how important XP SP2 is that these companies have held off even longer than usual out of fear that upgrading will cause massive problems. That said, many readers who've tested or deployed SP2 were surprised at how seamless the transition was, with few problems reported. Here are some of the most common reasons readers have delayed deploying SP2:
- Application incompatibilities. A lot of readers pointed to incompatibilities between SP2 and both commercial and inhouse software applications. A typical example is antivirus software. One reader noted that Symantec only belatedly offered SP2-compatible patches to its corporate antivirus package and did so for only the latest version (although I can say from experience that the previous software version works fine with SP2, but you need to turn off the Security Center's nag alert on nonmanaged machines).

Some of these applications, of course, are mission-critical and thus arguably even more important to the organizations than SP2. I heard from representatives of several governmental organizations that haven't deployed SP2 for this exact reason, and although they're trying to figure out how to roll out SP2 without disrupting users' work, the process is time-consuming and they believe they have more pressing concerns.

In some cases, the cost of application incompatibilities plays a role. "SP2 is incompatible with our phone system desktop client," one reader noted. "Of course, our desktop client is a release behind, so we need to upgrade our phone server (estimated \[at\] $10,000) to run the new client. Unfortunately, the new client won't run on Windows 98, so we will need to upgrade about 25 machines to run XP (estimated at $25,000). Total cost of our 'free' SP2 rollout: about $35,000."
- Training concerns. Because SP2 changes user-available settings so dramatically in some cases (e.g., Microsoft Internet Explorer's--IE's--pop-up blocking or the new always-on Windows Firewall with its confusing network access warnings), many readers noted that their organizations are waiting until they can figure out how to deploy the product in a way that will incur the lowest number of Help desk calls.
- Fear, uncertainty, doubt (FUD). Sensational news reports haven't helped SP2. Some readers noted that fear-inducing news reports or even anecdotal reports from vendors have convinced them to hold off on deploying SP2. I've even heard from consultants who were unwilling to give the nod to SP2 for their clients until they've had a chance to test it more thoroughly. That's too bad, because evidence suggests that SP2 is a high-quality and stable upgrade for most users.

Many Had No Problems
Many readers deployed SP2 and experienced no problems whatsoever. "We rolled SP2 out using Microsoft Systems Management Server for 130 users," a reader at a state university in California noted. "We then used Group Policy to turn off the XP firewall. \[We had no\] problems, \[no\] complaints, \[and no\] people even noticed. And, having it rolled out meant that we avoided a couple of worms that hit the rest of the Coincidentally, I'll be hosting a Web seminar about SP2 today at noon EST that will discuss the features in this release and why I believe that enterprises should roll out this critical update as soon as possible. For more information, see the Windows IT Pro Events Central Web site (see the second URL below).

SharePoint Users: a Fiercely Loyal Minority
Most of the readers who responded to my SharePoint query were as confused about this set of technologies as I am, which suggests that Microsoft has a long way to go to communicate how effective these products can be. But SharePoint users were almost unanimously loyal to the technology, describing how it has transformed the ways in which employees can work together despite being physically distant. Several lauded the low costs as well. "\[We have\] been able to get large groups of people from different departments (and even different countries around the world) to work together on larger problems," one reader said. "It's been most useful when lots of people need to be able to work on the same documents. The previous method of emailing documents got very cumbersome as the number of collaborating people increased beyond two. It's also quite empowering that SharePoint makes it much easier for office workers to control their own Web site permissions using simple Web forms. Windows SharePoint Services in particular has such a low cost that it's very easy to get a good ROI if you have even a small number of people (12+) working together."

SharePoint provides many benefits over standard email- or FTP-based file sharing, and several readers pointed to the ability to always have a readily available "current version" of any shared document. "We are not faced with the evil situation of having everyone working on separate \[versions of a\] document and then trying to merge the lot," one reader wrote. And the cross-geography sharing features of these products can often be awe-inspiring. "The system California uses ... is based on SharePoint Portal Server," a reader wrote. "This system allows us to share documents (of any type) between state agencies and all 58 counties within California during health emergencies of any type."

As several readers noted, SharePoint is a "sleeper" or "hidden" technology that has transformed those organizations lucky enough to have a SharePoint enthusiast onboard. "With WSS, rank and file office users can put files, text, schedules, etc., up on a Web site directly from their browser or via the Office integration," one respondent wrote. "If they need to rearrange the site, they can create their own libraries or sub-sites without calling IT. The breakthrough in my experience is that WSS is simple enough for normal mortals to actually figure out how to manage their own Web sites after a short demo."

Addendum to XP SP2 DEP information
Last week, I discussed the data execution prevention (DEP) feature in SP2 and described how it's more effective under 64-bit versions of SP2 running on x64 hardware platforms. That's because both AMD64- and Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) -based platforms support the technology in hardware, making the protection feature more resilient and reliable. David A. Solomon, the coauthor of "Inside Windows 2000" (Microsoft Press, 2000) and the upcoming "Microsoft Windows Internals, Fourth Edition: Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and Windows 2000" (Microsoft Press, 2004), wrote to remind me that even 32-bit versions of SP2 feature the more resilient hardware/software DEP solution when running on x64, and he's right. So you don't have to get XP Professional x64 Edition to take advantage of this feature on x64 systems--you just need to upgrade to SP2. Most 32-bit hardware, however, doesn't support this solution, although Intel just last week released a new version of its 32-bit Pentium 4 chip that does support Execute Disable, the feature that enables hardware-based DEP protection. Soon, only legacy 32-bit systems will be not fully protected by DEP.


"A Collection of IT Tidbits" http://www.windowsitpro.com/Windows/article/articleid/43935/43935.html

Windows IT Pro Events Central http://www.winnetmag.com/events

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