Monday 18 August 2008

A brief overview of XP SP3

This is a little late in coming, but here is some details on the Windows XP Service Pack 3 update.

The collection of Microsoft updates that comprises the recently released Window XP Service Pack 3 (XPSP3) is a culmination of the following groups or "clusters" of updates including;

• A Microsoft Common Control Update (COMCTL)
• A roll-up of Windows Security updates
• A Microsoft middleware update (Microsoft XML)
• A collection of tested and approved Microsoft Hotfixes
• The revocation of 3 rarely used API calls (relating to DEP)
• A roll-up of a series of application updates that have been released since XP Service Pack 2

When referring to the potential impact on applications stability or installation, there are two primary factors to consider when considering the deployment of Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 3; likelihood and the impact of a particular issue.

After reviewing the compatibility and impact analysis results of just under 1000 application packages from a variety of sources and industries, we have developed the following views on each of the XP Service Pack 3 sub-groups or clusters;

1) Microsoft Common Control Update: This control has been included on the initial release of Windows XP and has a minor update. As this update has been included as part of an OS update, following installation best practices (and using MSI Installer packages) will respect the later versions of this control and so, this update should have minimal impact on application compatibility and stability.
2) The roll-up of several Microsoft Security updates (i.e. MS05-040, MS05-032) have been available for a number of years and all workstations with Microsoft Update enabled should have already received and installed these updates. The impact on application stability will be minimal as any problems should have been discovered many months ago.
3) As with the previous Microsoft control update, there has been an update to the core XML middleware layer. This update has also been available for a number of months and for the most part, most environments will have already deployed this update. This update should have minimal impact on application configuration and stability for most well-maintained and updated system.
4) As issues arise, Microsoft support teams will respond to specific application and operating systems issues with a specified update or "Hotfix". These Hotfix updates progress through the full Microsoft testing regime but may have been exposed to a limited number of customers for deployment. In this instance, these hotfixes may have a are and limited impact on application compatibility and stability.
5) As part of the Microsoft XP SP3 update, three DEP (memory handling API) calls have been deprecated and formal Microsoft support removed. The occurrence of applications that would employ these API calls would be rare and so it is expected that this update will have a very limited (very rare) potential for application stability.
6) As part of the OS update process, Microsoft has also updated an number of applications such as Outlook Express and the Shadow copy service. These updates have been included in recent Microsoft updates and organisations that have well-maintained and subscribed and deployed recent Microsoft updates should not experience any reduced application stability or compatibility.

To outline the likelihood and potential impact of the updates causing a stability or compatibility impact on a given application, the following table outlines the risk for each grouping included in Windows XP SP3.

In summary, it appears that the configuration and OS level changes included in Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 3 will have a limited impact on application stability and compatibility and given the many security updated and application updates included, it appears that XPSP3 should strongly considered for rapid deployment for most organisation.

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