VSJ – November 2004 – Sounding Board

Robin Jones muses on how the software timetable can control us, rather than the other way around.

Have you installed Windows XP SP2 yet? No, neither have I. Being a natural coward, I’d like the benefit of several months of (other people’s) experience before taking the plunge. So far as I can tell, SP2 provides a number of security improvements – of itself laudable – that I, like most others, have already implemented via third parties. There’s one major exception, namely buffer overrun protection, although the really interesting work on this could be headed ‘For our next trick’. Microsoft says it’s “working with microprocessor companies to help Windows support hardware-enforced data execution prevention (DEP) on microprocessors that contain the feature. This uses the CPU to mark all memory locations in an application as non-executable, unless the location explicitly contains executable code.” Now that’s neat. But we can’t have it yet because it’s not in SP2 and anyway I don’t have DEP-enabled processors.

So my guess is that I don’t get anything useful from an install on an existing machine. I can pretty much guarantee a downside though. For one thing, Microsoft has played with the WiFi support. I have a WiFi network that uses third party software. Anyone care to give me odds that there won’t be a conflict? And if I give up and roll back to SP1? “Oh”, says Microsoft, brightly, “You may lose some digital media licences because Media Player 9 handles them differently from previous incarnations.” Or words to that effect. And what else might I lose that I haven’t noticed yet?

If Dante were writing ‘The Inferno’ today, I’m sure he would allocate a level of Hell at which sufferers would be condemned to upgrade Operating System software continually. Hang on, though, we live there! XP appeared early in 2002. SP1 was issued 9 months later. SP2 has just come out and mainstream support retirement is scheduled for the end of 2006. So we make a major change just about every year. Given the planning and testing that are needed to precede such an upgrade, that’s far too often. Let us know what you think.

[Something you’d like to get off your chest? Email me (Robin Jones) at eo@iap.org.uk.]

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