With all the hoopla surrounding the new Windows Firewall, you might think that the firewall is all that's in the long-awaited Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). You'd be wrong. Although Windows Firewall is undoubtedly the most significant feature, the service pack also contains many other noteworthy enhancements. In this month's Top 10, I run down the 10 most important new features that SP2 adds to XP.
10. Security hotfixes rollup--One of the least talked about--but most important--points of XP SP2 is that it contains a rollup of the previous XP security patches. For users who are spotty about keeping their systems patched, the security hotfixes rollup is reason enough to install SP2 right away.
9. Security Center--One of the most prominent new features in XP SP2 is the Security Center. Appearing as a shield icon in the system tray, the Security Center provides a graphical indicator that shows the current state of your system's antivirus protection, firewall, and Automatic Updates settings. It also provides links that let you change these settings.
8. Internet Explorer (IE) Add-on Manager--IE's new Add-on Manager lets you easily see all the add-ons that you've installed to enhance the functionality of IE and lets you enable or disable any of them. You access the Add-on Manager from IE by choosing Manage Add-ons from the Tools menu.
7. Outlook Express image blocking--Like Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, Outlook Express automatically blocks the display of images in message preview windows after you install XP SP2. Image blocking prevents rude Web sites from running uninvited code on your system and surreptitiously retrieving your personal and system information.
6. Popup blocking for IE--Another nice enhancement in SP2 is the Pop-Up Blocker for IE. After you install SP2, when you visit Web sites that attempt to send pop-ups to your system, Pop-Up Blocker suppresses the pop-ups and displays the message "Pop-ups were blocked" in the IE toolbar.
5. Data execution prevention (DEP)--Designed to put an end to buffer overflow exploits, the XP kernel was recompiled for SP2 using the No Execute (NX) flag. The NX flag lets XP mark memory as either executable or nonexecutable, preventing malware such as MSBlaster from running in memory that's designated as nonexecutable. Both AMD 64-bit processors and Intel's 64-bit Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) processor support the NX attribute.
4. Integrated Bluetooth support--XP SP2 Bluetooth supports multiple devices, including cell phones, printers, keyboards, and mouse devices, as well as Palm and Pocket PC devices. You install Bluetooth devices using the Control Panel's new Bluetooth Devices applet. Of course, your system must have Bluetooth hardware to take advantage of this support.
3. Improved wireless support--The new Wireless Network Connection dialog box is another welcome networking enhancement. This dialog box provides a user-friendly view of the available wireless networks and lets you connect to or disconnect from them. To view the dialog box, select the View available wireless networks option on the Network Connection dialog box.
2. Secure wireless configuration--The XP SP2 Wireless Network Setup wizard walks you through the creation of a Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)secured wireless network and can save the configuration to a USB key, which you can then use to configure compatible network devices. To start the new wizard, open the Wireless Network Connection dialog box and select the Setup a wireless network option.
1. Windows Firewall--Unlike the old Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) found in pre-SP2 XP, Windows Firewall is both useable and essential. Some of the important features of Windows Firewall are that it's turned on by default, prevents system access at boot time, and prompts you to enable access on a per-program basis. You can learn more about Windows Firewall in "Meet Windows Firewall," May 2004, InstantDoc ID 42293, "Fine-Tuning Windows Firewall," June 2004, InstantDoc ID 42594, and "Windows Firewall Update," July 2004, InstantDoc ID 42931.