This week sees the release of Windows XP Service Pack 2; another monster update developed by Microsoft to close a number of holes in their Windows XP Operating System. Most of you will know the procedure by now - Go to the Microsoft website, download a huge file, install it on your system and whilst the majority of users won’t see any visible change in the way you will be safe in the knowledge that your computer is more secure and stable than it was previously.

I can’t overemphasise how important this service pack is as only last week I was setting up a new system and before I had even finished setting it up it was infected with half a dozen viruses due to the large number of security holes present in the initial release of Windows XP. In addition to addressing these vulnerabilities this service includes a number of new features to make life a little easier and I will feature some of the better changes below.

- Enhanced Windows Firewall – Most importantly this is turned on by default unlike previous versions of Windows XP which required the user to manually enable it. Should you turn the firewall off it will start to nag you and warn that your system could be vulnerable although these warnings can be disabled.
- Security Centre Dashboard – This feature will pop up whenever Windows detects that your firewall, anti-virus or automatic updating is turned off, absent or out of date. This could be a very useful tool for many home users although you can ask it to go away and stop bugging you if you would rather take care of these things yourself.
- Pop-up stopper – Internet Explorer now blocks annoying pop-ups from displaying when you visit certain sites although this feature can of course be disabled.
- Improved Bluetooth support – Windows XP initially shipped without support for Bluetooth technology and whilst this has been gradually resolved with software updates, Service Pack 2 sees huge improvements in the way that Windows detects and interacts with this emerging technology.
- Enhanced Wireless Network capabilities – I wasn’t completely happy with the way that Windows handled wireless networks in the past as they were tricky to set up and very often insecure. This resulted in many people being hacked by their next door neighbour or businesses being attacked from someone parked outside their building with a wireless network enabled laptop. Windows XP Service Pack 2 includes a nice wizard to help you set up a secure wireless network on your PC and will then create a disk so that you can put these settings on any other PC’s that require use of the network.

Bottom line is that if you don’t install this update then you are either very brave or very stupid and more than likely it will be these very brave, stupid people that continue to e-mail me in months to come when their systems have been attacked. I must be honest in saying that the download is huge and so in a fantastic move of compassion Microsoft have agreed to send out a free CD to those who cannot get the update online which would be useful for those who don’t have access to a broadband connection.

In an ideal world our software would be safe and secure from day one and the people who search tirelessly for security vulnerabilities would have lives and not bother with trying to make life so difficult for the rest of us. Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world so there really is no excuse for not taking steps today to protect your system for tomorrow so head to and either download the service pack or order the CD today.

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