I recently received an email message from a reader who was in quite a panic. He had installed Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) Release Candidate 1 (RC1) on a computer that his site really needed for a couple of specific tasks and was surprised to discover that one of those tasks didn't function correctly with SP2 RC1 installed.

The reader was worried because the IT department had installed SP2 RC1 more than a month ago, they'd installed a number of other applications since the SP2 RC1 installation, and--he told me somewhat sheepishly--the IT department couldn't figure out how to remove SP2 RC1 from the computer.

Starting with what I thought was the reader's simplest problem, I instructed him to launch the Add or Remove Programs applet in the Control Panel and remove the service pack from there. You can imagine my surprise when he told me that the SP2 update wasn't in the list of currently installed programs under Add or Remove programs.

This prompted me to look at one of the SP2 RC1 computers I was running. Sure enough, no service pack was listed, nor were any updates that I'd applied since I installed SP2 RC1. However, I did see a little check box at the top of the Add or Remove programs window that said "Show Updates." After I selected the check box, all of the installed updates (e.g., hotfixes, service packs) automagically appeared.

Not seeing the check box is clearly a case of familiarity on the user's part; the check box wasn't there before, why should it be there now? But after giving it some thought, I've concluded that the check box is a good idea. I'm sure that in the final release of SP2 you'll be able to disable the check box, most likely through Group Policy, thereby making all updates invisible to end users and giving them one less thing to play with and break their computer.

I wanted to make sure that my advice to the reader was accurate, so I removed SP2 RC1 and all updates that had been installed after it. Doing so took a few steps because of the necessary reboots. The uninstall routine generated a message that told me what applications had been installed after SP2 RC1 and that these applications might be affected if I removed SP2 RC1. I let the uninstall routine continue and made note of the six applications that had been installed post-SP2 RC1.

After I removed all of the SP2 pieces and hotfixes applicable to SP2 RC1, I went to the Microsoft Windows Update site--http://v4.windowsupdate.microsoft.com/en/default.asp--to apply all of the post-SP1 hotfixes. Applying the hotfixes took several passes because some of the updates required independent installation.

After my computer was completely updated, I checked the basic Microsoft Office applications to make sure they still worked. The only problem I encountered was that when I launched Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, it loaded along with the installation routine for Microsoft MapPoint 2004. To stop this from happening every time Outlook was launched, I had to reinstall MapPoint (which was one of the six applications that were installed post-SP2). No data was lost, and after I reinstalled MapPoint I found no other functional problems with the applications installed on the computer.

As I said in "A Heads-Up on Windows XP SP2 RC1," http://www.winnetmag.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=42220, I don't recommend running technology previews such as XP SP2 RC1 on a computer you really need. However, it's nice to know that you can recover from just taking a look at it.