Court compliance and bug fixes galore in XP SP1

Microsoft has finally released the first service pack for Windows XP after a three-month beta period during which testers appear to have found precious little to complain about.

Microsoft has finally released the first service pack for Windows XP after a three-month beta period during which testers appear to have found precious little to complain about.

As expected, SP1 comes with a good chunk of bug fixes and enhancements. However, the main feature is arguably the changes made to appease the US courts, which wants Microsoft to adhere to an agreement from 1995 about not bundling actual applications with its operating systems.

Although they cannot actually be removed (not easily anyway), SP1 allows integrators, OEMs and customers to hide previously untouchable applications such as Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Windows Media Player, Windows Messenger and Microsoft’s version of the Java virtual machine. “Hiding” in this instance doesn’t mean that, for example, Internet Explorer remains inaccessible to users; it’s just removed from the Start menu and the desktop. Users can still start up Internet Explorer by typing in IEXPLORE.EXE into the Run dialogue. IE components won’t be hidden either from applications which depend on them to run.

In compressed form SP1 amounts to some 133MB including the Java virtual machine. It’s available as a download from the web, or as a patches-only install, which is substantially smaller than the full version. Users can also order CDs from Microsoft Services for $20. Retail copies of Windows XP will be “slipstreamed” -- have the service pack applied -- rather than sold with SP 1 separately.

SP1 adds support for universal serial bus (USB) version 2.0 chip sets and devices, as well as exotica such as Microsoft’s Mira technology, the Freestyle digital media home PCs and Tablet PCs. Not included in SP1 is DirectX 9, Microsoft’s set of 3D and multimedia application programming interfaces. It’s currently in beta, and will be available as separate download.

Windows product activation, the major turn-off “feature” in Windows XP, also receives a tweak. First, two corporate volume installation keys that allow a WPA-less installation which “escaped” on to the internet are invalidated. To prevent future key leaks, volume licence sites can now encrypt and time-limit licence keys for unattended installations. Second, if users change their hardware configuration enough to require re-activation, there’s now a three-day grace period before Windows XP shuts them out.

So, should you rush out and obtain SP1? Microsoft New Zealand technical specialist Nathan Mercer says an XP system kept up to date through Windows Update will contain the crucial fixes and new features of SP1. Having SP1 one is more important for corporate customers who create their own installation media, but otherwise there’s no rush as long as you keep up with the patches, says Mercer.

The full list of fixes can be found here.

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