By now, most PC owners have some edition of Windows XP on their computers. Most home users likely have the scaled down "Home" edition, and a few will have the "Professional" edition. In either case, PC owners should be aware that Microsoft has made some changes in policy to their Windows XP line of products.
Beginning last fall, on October 10, 2006, Microsoft announced the discontinuation of support for Windows XP and Windows SP Service Pack 1 (SP1). PC owners will need to ensure they have Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) installed to continue to receive new bug fixes, the latest security updates and other types of support from Microsoft.
On Microsoft's home page, they state, "On October 10, 2006, Microsoft will end all public assisted support for Windows XP Service Pack1 (SP1). After this date, Microsoft will no longer provide any incident support options or security updates for this retired service pack under the policies defined by the Microsoft Support Lifecycle policy. To enhance the security of your computer and to continue to receive updates for Windows XP, we recommend you upgrade your computer, for free, to Windows XP Service Pack 2."
A service pack is simply a major software product update. It typically contains various bug fixes, updates for known security vulnerabilities, and at times, new features. It can be viewed as a big "all-in-one" product update.
Consumers with broadband Internet connections like DSL or cable probably already have Service Pack 2 installed, as Microsoft's built-in Windows Update feature should have already downloaded and installed it.
Those without Internet access can order Service Pack 2 for Windows XP on CD, direct from Microsoft (requires a shipping and handling fee). Unfortunately, this requires access to a PC that does have Internet access. The CD can be ordered from this web address.
Another option for consumers lacking Internet access is to have a friend or neighbor download the Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) "Network Installation Package" and burn it to a CD or DVD, or copy it a portable USB drive. The Network Installation Package is essentially a large program (executable file), roughly two hundred and sixty megabytes (260 MB) in size, that contains all the updates inside of it. Because all of the updates and additions are self-contained within the program, no Internet connection is needed. Simply run the program from the CD or USB drive, and the installer will update your Windows XP computer to Service Pack 2.
The Network Installation Package can be downloaded from this address.
PC users can check their computer's version of Windows XP to see if Service Pack 2 has already been installed. From the desktop, click on the "Start" button. Find "My Computer" and right click it. Select "Properties." From the resulting dialog box, look at the "System" section. If Service Pack 2 has been installed, it will display "Service Pack 2" just above the "Registered to" line.
PC owners should be aware that Service Pack 2 upgrades and enables the built-in firewall, which blocks unauthorized, inbound communications. While this won't affect most home users, it may affect some users which utilize Microsoft file and printer sharing, some peer-to-peer applications (P2P), and some extended instant messaging features (web cams, etc). If needed, the built-in firewall can be disabled by double clicking the "Windows Firewall" icon in the control panel.
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