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1. Commentary
- Understanding the Windows XP SP2 Blocking Mechanism

2. Hot Off the Press
- REAL Software Offers Free Upgrade to Stranded VB Users

3. Peer to Peer
- Featured Thread: Firewall/Antivirus
- Tip: Under which user accounts do the various Group Policy scripts run?

4. New and Improved
- Power Your Enterprise

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==== 1. Commentary: Understanding the Windows XP SP2 Blocking Mechanism ====
by Paul Thurrott, News Editor, thurrott@windowsitpro.com

When Microsoft introduced Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) last August, the company understood that many enterprises and other businesses would want to block access to the update via Windows Update and Automatic Updates. To accommodate the needs of these companies, many of which needed more time to evaluate and test SP2, Microsoft issued a mechanism through which organizations can temporarily block the delivery of SP2.

You can find more information about the SP2 blocking mechanism on the Microsoft Web site (see the URL below), but here's the gist of it: Depending on the method you use to deploy software updates, Microsoft provides several ways through which you can delay or suspend delivery of SP2. If you're not using a managed software-updating tool, such as Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS) or Microsoft Systems Management Services (SMS), you can use a registry change to disable the delivery of SP2.

The problem, for some users, is that the blocking mechanism is only temporary. When Microsoft first provided the mechanism, it stated that the mechanism would block SP2 for only 240 days or roughly 8 months. That time period will expire in about 3 weeks--on April 12, 2005. On that day, Windows Update and Automatic Updates will ignore the registry change and begin delivering XP SP2.

Sadly, the arrival of this date has been met with the same wild rumors and fear that greeted the new millennium. You might have seen some of the crazier articles about this topic, which accuse Microsoft of dumping XP SP2 on its users in a bid to force the upgrade. However, the truth is much less exciting and controversial than the rumors. Here's what's really happening.

First, some background information. For most nonenterprise users, SP2 has been successfully rolled out in phases. Customers could begin manually downloading the update on August 9, 2004, and it began trickling out to beta SP2 users via Automatic Updates on August 10. On August 16, Microsoft deployed it to SUS servers. XP Home Edition customers still running the original XP version or XP SP1 or SP1a gained access to SP2 on August 18, and XP Professional Edition users gained access a few days later.

Since its release, more than 180 million XP users worldwide have successfully upgraded to SP2, according to Microsoft. The negative effects on these users, despite the sweeping security improvements and potential incompatibilities that SP2 introduces, have been astoundingly low. Yes, some users have had problems with SP2, but when you consider the fact that SP2 is essentially a massive OS upgrade, the release has been enormously successful. Microsoft representatives have told me again and again that the expected upswing in support calls has simply never happened.

On April 12, 2005, Microsoft will stop honoring the temporary blocking mechanism for SP2. However, this change won't affect most enterprises because most mid- and large-sized businesses use managed software deployment tools such as SUS, SMS, or other third-party products. This change won't affect consumers, either, because nonmanaged consumer machines have had access to SP2 since last August.

This change will, however, affect the small subset of business customers who've opted to temporarily block the SP2 download because they don't use a formal software-deployment solution. These types of businesses do have a choice to make by April 12. They can opt to manually install SP2 on their XP desktops, or they can simply wait until April 12. Starting on that date, Automatic Updates will automatically download SP2 to all XP desktops.

However--and this is the most important point--Automatic Updates won't automatically install SP2 at that time. Instead, you must first agree to the End User License Agreement (EULA) before SP2 will install via Automatic Updates. If you decline the EULA, SP2 won't install. End of controversy.

You could be silly about all this and disable Automatic Updates. However, I strongly urge you not to do so because Automatic Updates is a vital conduit for critical security patches. So if you leave Automatic Updates on and don't want to install SP2 for some reason, you might simply see a bandwidth hit, although Automatic Updates does a good job of managing the download volume when a user is interactively engaged with the system. Conversely, if you'd like to install SP2 but are worried about bandwidth, download the installation once manually and apply it to each machine locally before April 12. It's that simple.

Windows XP with SP2 will be considered the baseline version of XP moving forward. For that reason and because of all the excellent security updates and high degree of success that businesses have had installing the update, I strongly recommend that all XP users--consumer, business, or enterprise--upgrade to this release as soon as possible. The April blocking-mechanism date is, in most ways, completely irrelevant to that belief. But if you've been putting off the SP2 upgrade for some reason, now is the time to act.

Temporarily Disabling Delivery of Windows XP Service Pack 2 Through Windows Update and Automatic Updates (Microsoft)
http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/winxppro/maintain/sp2aumng.mspx

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==== 2. Hot Off the Press ====
by Paul Thurrott, thurrott@windowsitpro.com

REAL Software Offers Free Upgrade to Stranded VB Users
REAL Software will offer "stranded" Visual Basic (VB) users free upgrades to REALbasic through March 31, the company announced yesterday. On April 1, Microsoft is ending standard support for VB 6.0, which has left millions of enthusiasts and programmers in the lurch. To read the entire story, visit the following URL:
http://www.windowsitpro.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=45775

==== Events and Resources ====
(from Windows IT Pro and its partners)

Improve Service Levels and Maximize IT Staff Efficiency
Keeping your IT infrastructure on course can be a challenge given the complexity of servers, infrastructure, and application software. In this free Web seminar, learn practical techniques to monitor and manage your infrastructure applications, such as Active Directory and Exchange.
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Get Ready for SQL Server 2005 Roadshow in a City Near You
Get the facts about migrating to SQL Server 2005. SQL Server experts will present real-world information about administration, development, and business intelligence to help you implement a best-practices migration to SQL Server 2005 and improve your database computing environment. Receive a 1-year membership to PASS and 1-year subscription to SQL Server Magazine. Register now!
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New eBook--Windows Certification and Public Keys
PKI services are increasingly important in today's IT environment. PKI offers strong security services to internal and external users, computers, and applications. In this free eBook, you'll discover a starting point for understanding the PKI and certificate services available in Windows Server 2003. Download it now and learn about trust relationships, validating digital certificates, and more.
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Exchange, Retention, and Regulatory Compliance
The advent of Sarbanes-Oxley, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, and assorted market-specific regulations means that you may be legally required to have an email compliance and retention policy. In this free Web seminar, Exchange MVP Paul Robichaux will teach you to discover, manage, and archive information within your Exchange enterprise to successfully limit your legal exposure and protect your corporate information. Sign up today!
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Group Policy Settings--Get Answers You Won't Find Anywhere Else.
Don't be overwhelmed by the large number of Group Policy settings and variety of ways to apply them. Join industry experts Ed Roth and Darren Mar-Elia as they explain how to use Group Policy Objects for desktop management. Get your questions answered about settings for deployment, folder redirection, standardization, security, updates, and more.
http://www.microsoft.com/communities/chats/default.mspx#Security_in_Microsoft_Apr14

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==== Instant Poll ====

Results of Previous Poll:
The voting has closed in Windows IT Pro's nonscientific Instant Poll for the question, "Do you think Microsoft's policy to grant certain government agencies early access to patch information poses a security threat?" Here are the results from the 161 votes:
- 42% Yes
- 50% No
- 8% I don't know

New Instant Poll:
The next Instant Poll question is, "Has your organization upgraded Windows XP machines to Service Pack 2 (SP2) yet?" Go to the Windows IT Pro home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, we upgraded when SP2 first became available, b) No, but we will upgrade when the SP2 blocking mechanism is removed in April, c) No, and we don't plan to install SP2 on our machines, or d) I don't know.
http://www.windowsitpro.com/magazine

==== 3. Peer to Peer ====

Featured Thread: Firewall/Antivirus
Forum user kinalas wants to know the best hardware/software firewall solution for protecting his corporate network from viruses and spyware. If you have a recommendation, visit the following URL:
http://www.windowsitpro.com/forums/messageview.cfm?catid=47&threadid=130681

Tip: Under which user accounts do the various Group Policy scripts run?
by John Savill, http://www.windows2000faq.com

Find the answer at the following URL:
http://www.windowsitpro.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=45735

==== Announcements ====
(A complete Web and live events directory brought to you by Windows IT Pro: http://www.windowsitpro.com/events )

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==== 4. New and Improved ====
by Angie Brew, products@windowsitpro.com

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Have you used a product that changed your IT experience by saving you time or easing your daily burden? Tell us about the product, and we'll send you a T-shirt if we write about the product in a future Windows IT Pro What's Hot column. Send your product suggestions with information about how the product has helped you to mailto:whatshot@windowsitpro.com.

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==== Contact Us ====

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