NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2004
Still in Doubt - Windows XP Service Pack 2
From the November, 2004 issue of the TCS I/O Port Newsletter
by Ira Wilsker,
Golden Triangle PC Club
(click to email author)

In a recent column I wrote about the problems that I suffered after I installed the much ballyhooed Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). Despite following the troubleshooting and problem resolution instructions listed on Microsoft's Knowledge Base (a massive data base of Microsoft software problems and solutions), I was still unable to successfully reboot my computer. While frustrated, I was not in total despair, as I had a full current backup of my hard drive stored safely on my external hard drive, an imperative precaution that can not be understated.

Despite running the XP system restore, and normally reliable third party programs such as one of my favorites, WinRescueXP, my computer would still not boot following the install of SP2. Fortunately, I had the original XP CD that came with my computer, considering a fresh install of XP, and then a restore from my recent backup would be in order, a process that I did not relish. I inserted my original XP CD into the drive, restarted the computer, and booted with the CD. I selected the install option, clicked F8 to accept the Microsoft license, and then had an option of a full install, or a repair install. Since a repair install does not reformat the hard drive and does not wipe out programs and data files, but only performs a fresh install of XP, which was my obvious choice. Thirty-nine minutes later, my computer was up and running normally, with the original XP (Service Pack 1) installed. One note that users should be aware of is that many, but not all OEM versions of XP on CD, typically those provided by a computer manufacturer that may or may not be labeled as XP, but may instead be labeled as "system restore" or "operating system", may not offer a repair install but only a destructive full install.

After successfully reinstalling XP, it was necessary to go to the update site at windowsupdate.microsoft.com and selectively re-download and install the critical security updates. Now my computer is up and running somewhat normally, with most of the patches downloaded and installed, excluding the SP2.

Now that I am back online and functioning with my primary desktop computer, I decided to see how frequent my SP2 problems occurred. Anecdotal evidence published in a variety of tomes stated that from 5% to 20% of SP2 updates failed for a variety of reasons.

As I was preparing to type this column, I received my October "Scot Finne's Newsletter" (http://www.scotsnewsletter.com), and with not much surprise was greeted with the headline "XP SERVICE PACK 2 DECISIONS" which detailed the many problems that XP users had when installing XP SP2. According to the newsletter, "The two main reasons not to install XP SP2, at least not right away, are: 1. Installation Woes and Other Problems; 2. Web Browsing, Email, and Other Application Inconveniences".

After explaining in detail the advantages and disadvantages of SP2, as well as describing who should and should not install SP2, Scot compiles a list of 60 official Microsoft Knowledge Base documents that acknowledge the situation, and provide tips and patches to allow the successful install of SP2. The list at http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/best_of/xpsp2links.htm is comprehensive, and is broken down into a logical series of topics, Pre-Install Must Reading, Installation Issues, SP2 Problems/Solutions, Uninstalling SP2, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Windows Firewall, Networking/Wireless, Miscellaneous, and Microsoft Knowledge Base Searches. I strongly encourage all XP users, whether or not they have installed XP SP2 to review this list, as it contains much helpful information. For example, in the Pre-Install section is a list of programs, including popular name-brand utilities that cease to function properly after SP2 is installed. There are several issues that may need to be rectified prior to installing SP2 in order to improve the chances of a successful install.

The Installation Issues and SP2 Problems/Solutions segments describe in detail, and propose solutions or provide patches for the majority of installation failures, such as the one that I experienced.

With the proverbial 20/20 hindsight, I wish that I had seen this list prior to installing my SP2, and had the benefit of its insights. When all else fails, the proper ways to uninstall SP2, and restore the prior versions is described, another valuable piece of information that may save many users a lot of time and aggravation.

After SP2 is successfully installed, many users have problems with the new features and improvements in the newly upgraded XP. Some of the most common problems have to do with the improved and "on by default" XP firewall, which may restrict some legitimate programs from connecting to the internet, and may also conflict with the usually superior third-party firewalls that all of us should be using. Patches, fixes, and workarounds are detailed on Scot's list.

Other documented problems include the inability of Outlook Express to handle attachments and graphics, changes to Internet Explorer, and networking issues. All of these are well covered in Scot's list.

Now that I have information available that I was previously unaware of, thanks to Scot Finnie, and a variety of tips, hints, and patches to ease the transition, courtesy of Microsoft, maybe I will try again to install my SP2 CD. Of course, another full backup is in order, just in case.

Ira Wilsker is the APCUG Representative & Bylaws Chair for Golden Triangle PC Club, a columnist for the Examiner in Beaumont, Texas, and has two radio shows. He can be reached at iwilsker@ih2000.net.

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