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How to get the most out of Microsoft's SP2

Any release from Microsoft brings a lot of questions. But since Windows XP Service Pack 2 came out in August, it has been particularly active. Here's a column devoted to SP2. For more information, readers can check the Microsoft Web site ( sp2/default.mspx)

Speeding start up/shut down process

Q. Since downloading Microsoft Service Pack 2, it takes much longer to start up or shut down. I have spoken to others who have the same problem. Can this be corrected or is it something we have to live with?

Some people who have reported this problem had it resolved by updating their computer's BIOS. BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is the built-in operating system for your motherboard. Your motherboard/BIOS manufacturer usually will identify itself on a reboot as one of the first things flashed on the monitor. Check the manufacturer's Web site along with the documentation that accompanied your PC. Many motherboards come with programs that can be run from Windows that can automate this process. In addition, you should check the Web sites of the vendors of some of your peripheral devices (scanners, printers, video cards, etc.) to see if they have updated drivers specific to Windows XP SP2. Microsoft has a site ( sp2/oemlinks.mspx) to check for updates from PC manufacturers.

Update software and get your photos

Q. I have a Kodak software program that allows me to transfer photos from my e-mail attachments. Since I installed Service Pack 2, it will not allow me to do that. If I run a System Restore to an earlier date before I installed the Service pack 2 update, it goes back to letting me transfer the e-mail attachments photos. I've done this twice and both times System Restore has fixed this problem. After System Restore, every time I click on the Kodak program, a window pops up that says _ Runner file name (Kodak software Updater.exe) lacks a -(The app id separator), with a box that you can click OK on.

Instead of returning to a System Restore point before the update, you would be better off checking for an update to the Kodak software that may be available on its Web site. Although it is technically feasible to go to a previous restore point or even to uninstall SP2, because of the numerous changes weaved into all parts of the operating system, I would recommend against it.

If it really isn't broken, don't fix it

Q. I have been told that if I am not having any problems with XP, leave it alone and do not download the Service Pack 2. I was told, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." What is your opinion and how will the Service Pack 2 make what I have better? I have no viruses, spyware or other bugs that are apparent, so I am hesitant to download a program that may end up causing me problems in other areas needlessly. Is this worth the time and effort?

Are you quoting me? You very well may be because "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is my computer mantra, one I have used many times in my column. If you are truly free of viruses, spyware, popups, bugs and already employ a strong firewall, then maybe you are right and it is not worth the risk that any major operating system change can bring. But that would put you in the extreme minority. Most PCs I see are infested with all the aforementioned afflictions and SP2 will be the most helpful change users can make to their PC.

Enhancements for older versions?

Q. Will the new-and-improved versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express be available for users of older Windows versions like 98 and Me?

Microsoft has not commited to providing the SP2 security enhancements in Internet Explorer and Outlook Express back to previous versions of Windows. But many in the industry think there is a strong possibility that might happen because many businesses still use pre-XP versions of Windows. For now, you can use commercial and free popup blockers for IE in place of the built-in SP2 feature. I'm not aware of any commercial products that provide the automatic graphic-link suppressor that is part of Outlook Express XP SP2, but still make sure you are always up to date with the latest security packs for IE and the other parts of the system, including Outlook Express. The important thing is that your PC, regardless of the operating system version, is well protected. It is just a lot more convenient to accomplish this with Windows XP SP2.

Set PC to get updates automatically

Q. In your column (Aug. 23), you stated that Windows XP Service Pack 2 has been released. When i go to the Microsoft Web address ( /protect/default.aspx), it asks if I want them to "let us do it for you," which I assume means it will download or prompt me to download the Service Pack 2. When I say yes, it shows my Internet firewall and computer updates are checked as being okay and instructs me to use up-to-date antivirus software, which i have with Norton. Is this all that needs to be done to activate the Service Pack 2 updates?

The site that you listed is not the update site, but rather a site that employs a checklist for your existing security settings. Maybe you already have SP2 installed. How can you tell? Go to the regular Windows Update site ( and have it scan your PC for new updates. If you see Windows XP SP2 listed as one of the available updates, select and install it. After the installation your PC will be set to automatically find and install new updates _ this is highly recommended. Many problems of the past (MSBlaster, for example) could easily have been avoided if users had automatic update turned on.

Check firewall's capabilities

Q. I have been reading a lot of articles regarding SP2's incompatibility with other programs and its own security holes. Most of what I have read seems to revolve around changes to the internal Microsoft firewall and an application's ability to open a port when it needs it. This raises an interesting question for me: I have been using the Zone Alarm firewall and have the current Microsoft internal firewall turned off. When SP2 is installed, it appears the internal Microsoft firewall will be turned on by default. My plan was to turn it off and continue using Zone Alarm. Is that the best thing to do? Right now, all my applications are running with Zone Alarm. But is Zone Alarm still leaving my PC vulnerable? Should I remove it and start using the Microsoft firewall (and deal with any applications that stop working)? What's a user to do?

Most of the third-party firewalls will be more robust than the Windows XP firewall, especially if you have specific needs. It may be a good opportunity to check into what your current firewall's capabilities are. One important change in the SP2 firewall is that outgoing traffic is now controlled by the firewall, something only the the third-party vendor firewalls offered. For most users the default XP firewall is sufficient. It is not a good idea to run two firewalls at once. In your case, turn the Windows XP firewall off and turn the Zone Alarm firewall back on.

Back up e-mail, photos, personal data

Q. I want to download the XP Service Pack 2. Everything I read about it says back up your hard drive before you start. I want to burn a copy of the hard drive to a blank disc, but know it probably will take hours. Is there a way to move just the important files and not all the games and stuff that I already have copies for? I am a novice when it comes to computers, so please keep it simple.

Even in an update that goes disastrously wrong, data is not always lost. But you're better safe than sorry. Backup is a difficult subject to explain because every system is different. You are correct in that it is not necessary to back up installed software such as games and even the operating system itself because you always can reinstall these from the original media. What you need to back up is all the personal data that you've created, such as documents, photos, videos, e-mail, browser favorites. Most of your documents of all kinds will be found under the My Documents folder. Keep in mind that the link to this folder on your desktop is just a shortcut. If you were to open My Computer, double-click on your C drive, you would find your My Documents folder under the Documents and Settings folder, which holds yet another folder for each user of the computer. If you sign on as John, there will be a folder named John that will contain most of your data including the My Documents folder. If you use a client-based e-mail (where e-mail is stored on your PC), you will need to find out where these files are kept and add that to your backup list. For Outlook Express you can find this location by clicking Tools, Options, Maintenance tab and then the Store Folder button. Include everything in that folder. Along those same lines, you may want to make a backup of your browser's favorites settings. This is easily done with Internet Explorer by clicking File, Import and Export, selecting export Favorites and Cookies, then saving it to a file in your backup folder structure. Now what I've mentioned assumes you used most of the default destinations by standard Windows-based applications. But everyone sets up his system differently, so you will need to make changes where appropriate.

Check program compatibility

Q. I use Zone Labs firewall; McAfee Virus Scan; Ad-aware, Spybot; and the Google popup blocker. I have set Internet Explorer to warn me before a cookie is put on my computer. It sounds as if the new service pack will do pretty much all of the same automatically. Do you know if SP2 will interfere with these programs? I am loath to scrap them and put all my eggs in SP2 before it has been thoroughly tested and debugged.

Don't forget that all of Microsoft's operating systems and updates go into extensive betas and release candidate testing by thousands of users. But with the endless combinations of configurations, programs, hardware that are out there, there always will be problems that are not caught before general release. The best thing to do before any update is to check that your programs will be compatible with the new upgrade. This information usually is found on individual Web sites. If not, you can call or e-mail technical support. You will need to choose which firewall you want to run. If you stick with Zone Alarm, make sure you turn off the Windows firewall. I haven't used the Google popup blocker, but I've used several others and none has come close to matching XP SP2's built-in popup blocker for trouble-free ease of use. You may want to check it out.