WinInfo Short Takes: Week of August 23

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...

Hurry Up and Wait: Most Windows XP Home Users Still Waiting for SP2
   On Wednesday, as expected, Windows XP Home Edition users started to receive the drizzle download of XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) through Automatic Updates. But many WinInfo Daily UPDATE readers are reporting incredibly slow-moving and even apparently nonexistent downloads. Don't get too excited about receiving XP SP2 quickly through Automatic Updates, Microsoft warns. At a whopping 30MB to 80MB per download and with tens of millions of XP Home customers waiting for the update, weeks will pass before some users complete the download and start the installation. And then there's XP Professional Edition: XP Pro users will have access to the update beginning Wednesday, August 25 but, again, the release will happen over a long period of time. For many users, manually downloading the massive 272MB XP Pro full network installation version will mean that they'll get the update much more quickly than if they wait for Automatic Updates. And, frankly, because simply installing XP SP2 will better secure your system, maybe you should take matters into your own hands.

Microsoft Issues First XP SP2 Hotfix
   Just weeks after releasing XP SP2 to the masses, Microsoft has issued the first hotfix for the fledgling OS update. Although the fix sounds fairly technical and obscure, it actually affects a lot of people who run VPN software, which business travelers frequently use when they're on the road. The fix involves something called the loopback adapter, which is just about as exciting as it sounds. If you need the hotfix (and you need it only if you know you need it, if you follow me), you can find it on the Microsoft Knowledge Base Web site

XP SP2 Reviews Are In: Great Update, Few Problems, Not a Panacea
   I originally published my XP SP2 review in April, and since then I've updated it as necessary. Now the wider world is starting to come to grips with the update's changes and improvements. Not surprisingly, most of the reviews are highly positive, if grudgingly so, as if Microsoft is totally incapable of creating something that works well and reviewers are confused when the company exceeds their expectations. Many reviewers cart out a handful of tired old observations, as if they had suddenly pulled out a golden nugget of truth from some previously unknown insight. Or they couch the review with some forewarning of doom, such as, "Sure, there aren't any huge problems yet, but there will be--mark my words." Sigh. Regardless, I want to repeat some simple advice: XP SP2 isn't a panacea, and it won't solve all your problems. It doesn't include antivirus software (although it should), and it doesn't include any spyware-removal utilities or the ability to fix malware-related problems. For this reason, you'll need to bolster XP SP2 with other security-oriented applications. So don't be a statistic. XP SP2 can't save you from your own inaction.

XP SP2-Compatible Version of MBSA Now Available
   And speaking of XP SP2 and security, one utility you simply must download and run is Microsoft's newly updated Microsoft Baseline Security Advisor (MBSA), which now supports XP SP2. According to Microsoft, "MBSA is the free, best-practices vulnerability assessment tool for the Microsoft platform. It is a tool designed for the IT Professional that helps with the assessment phase of an overall security management strategy. MBSA Version 1.2.1 includes a graphical and command-line interface that can perform local or remote scans of Windows systems." In other words, you run MBSA, and it tells you what's wrong with your PC (or PCs) from a security standpoint. Nice! You can download the tool from the Microsoft Web site

Microsoft Recommends Throttling SUS for XP SP2
   And because XP SP2 is a topic from which we'll never escape this month, let's briefly look at one more XP SP2-related problem. Because of the full network installation's humongous size, Microsoft is recommending that small and midsized businesses that use Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS) to distribute XP SP2 to clients restrict the amount of network bandwidth SUS uses. This action will prevent the XP SP2 distribution from effectively killing all other network activity, which could obviously be a problem. For more details about the process, refer to the Microsoft Web site

Microsoft Axes Xbox Sports Games Studio
   Although Microsoft isn't promoting these two Xbox-related announcements as related events, they surely have something to do with each other. First, Microsoft quietly revealed this week that it's eliminating 76 jobs related to the Xbox sports games studio and canceling all the company's sports-related Xbox titles. Second, in a separate announcement, the company said that it's working with sports gaming giant Electronic Arts (EA)--which coincidentally recently announced support for Microsoft's Xbox Live service a year after telling Microsoft it would never do so--to ensure that EA's upcoming soccer title works with Xbox Live. Coincidence? I think not.

Linux Security Ills Make Windows Perfect Fit for London
   Before you read this news item, I want to remind you that I'm reporting this event, not creating it. In other words, don't shoot the messenger. That said, the ludicrous reached its apex this week when officials at the London Borough of Newham revealed that they had selected Windows and other Microsoft solutions over Linux-based open-source solutions because of Linux's "security issues." As a representative of the consultancy firm that Newham hired said, "We established that Microsoft had invested considerable time and energy into the security of \[its\] systems." But that goes without saying. Windows is hacked virtually every second of every day. What else would the company be working on? In any event, Newham is going to roll out a flotilla of Microsoft products, including Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft SQL Server, and Tablet PCs. The borough even bragged about the amount of money it saved--more than 3.2 million pounds--no doubt thanks to the fact that it considered a Linux alternative, thus prompting Microsoft to offer a sweet deal. But I'm sure that had nothing to do with Newham's decision.
I'm On Fire: Apple Recalls PowerBook Batteries
   I knew Apple Computer's PowerBooks ran hot but this is ridiculous. This week, Apple recalled 28,000 PowerBook G4 batteries--all for the new 15" aluminum design--after consumer-protection groups received complaints that the batteries were overheating. The groups investigated, discovered that the batteries create a fire risk, and alerted Apple. This kind of thing happens occasionally, and Apple's products are generally reliable, but I find the company's warning about the batteries somewhat humorous. "Apple urges you to stop using your battery ... If you continue to use your battery, do not leave it unattended and check for signs of overheating." The reason I find this statement humorous is that Apple previously said that the heat coming from the bottom of its PowerBooks was "normal." I guess it depends on your definition of normal. Do I smell smoke?

New IntelliMouse, IntelliType Software Available
   Microsoft hardware fans might want to pick up Microsoft IntelliMouse 5.2 and Microsoft IntelliType 5.3, which provide drivers and utilities for Microsoft's mouse devices and keyboards, respectively. You can download the new versions of IntelliPoint 5.2 and IntelliType Pro 5.3 from the Microsoft Web site. 

   In an article in yesterday's WinInfo Daily UPDATE, "Microsoft Refutes Windows XP SP2 Flaw Claims," I noted that heise Security researchers "were forced to admit that they were wrong" about their claims that they discovered flaws in XP SP2. However, heise Security's Jurgen Schmidt, who originally found and published the company's assertions, says that he hasn't changed his stance on this matter. (Neither has Microsoft, for the record.) The URLs below point to his original findings.
   Flaws in SP2 Security Features
   Microsoft: A Matter of Trust

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