ZDNet Australia is reporting that a Microsoft executive speaking this week at the AusCERT2005 conference there noted that Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) is 15 times more secure than previous versions of Windows XP. Jason Garms, who heads Microsoft's anti-malware product team, also talked up his company's anti-spyware efforts.

"A machine that had Windows XP or XP SP1 was 15 times more likely to have one of the highly prevalent top 20 worms installed than on a machine running XP SP2," Garms said. Garms noted that the figure came from an internal analysis of the performance of SP2 since its release in August 2004.

Much of the improvement, he says, comes from SP2's default behavior, which includes strongly recommending that the user enable Auto Update by default. Now, Garms said, "within days of Microsoft releasing a patch, the vast majority of the Windows ecosystem is up to date."

Regarding spyware, Garms said that Microsoft will release both consumer and business versions of its AntiSpyware product, which it acquired as part of its purchase of Giant Company Software in December 2004. Though Garms did not comment on pricing and availability, Microsoft has previous stated that the consumer version would be free and then later integrated into Windows Longhorn, while the business version of the product would be made available to corporations as a paid subscription service. A public beta of Microsoft's antispyware package is currently available.

Why the emphasis on spyware? According to Microsoft, spyware is responsible for up to one-third of all Windows crashes and reboots. "Some people will have you believe that the primary impact of spyware is the spying on your systems, but that is the secondary impact of spyware," Garms said during his talk. Crashes, reboots and poor performance "are the things that generate user help desk calls."