Sunday, April 6, 2008

Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3 Service Pack

I don’t expect Release Candidate 1 of Windows Vista’s Service Pack 1 to be dangerous in any way, but most people should avoid beta service packs nonetheless. Wait for the final version of SP1, available shortly.

The service pack is mostly invisible, making Vista faster and more secure, and of course it adds drivers. It’s not critical, however, the way SP2 was for XP. And Vista SP1 changes little you’d notice in your day-to-day experience. The bulk of the development effort has gone toward upgrading security subsystems—elements that enterprise clients find appealing but consumers and small-business users won’t really notice.

Improvements in security are what really define SP1. First—and particularly important if you’re a group administrator—the Group Management Policy Console (GMPC) has disappeared, and the Group Policy Editor (GPEdit) focuses on local instead of global policy. Second, with SP1 on 64-bit Vista, third-party anti-malware programs gain access to new application-programming interfaces. They allow these programs to extend the Windows kernel directly to provide lower-level detection of malicious code, giving security software a better chance of blocking or deleting such code— a useful advance. SP1 also allows Remote Desktop files to be signed, providing increased security for anyone using the Remote Desktop Protocol to connect with (and control) other PCs. Another enhancement affects, for the most part, only those who’ve purchased computers that shipped with Vista installed. BitLocker, built into the original Vista so that users could encrypt an entire drive, functioned only with the drive the OS boots from. With SP1 you can use BitLocker with any drive—an obvious improvement. BitLocker still requires a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip, of course. To see if BitLocker will work, click on the Start button and type bitlocker into the search field. If your system lacks a TPM chip, a message alerts you.

All these improvements will be a good thing. But remember, RC1 is time- limited. According to Microsoft, it “will no longer operate” after June 30, 2008. Does that mean Vista itself will not operate? We’re just not sure. You really will need to uninstall RC1 after that date and move on to the release version of SP1, which is expected in the first quarter of 2008.

XP SP3 APPROACHES Release Candidate 1 of Service Pack 3 for Windows XP is now available in a limited distribution. As with Vista SP1, you probably don’t want to mess with it—yet. It’s an important service pack, though, bringing XP up to date with the latest fixes and some new features. To sum up, some features are upgraded, among them Microsoft Management Console to 3.0, WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) to 2, and Internet Explorer to Version 7.

The two new features in SP3 are black hole router detection, in which the networking stack tries to determine whether routers are silently discarding packets, and support for NAP (Network Access Protection), which lets network administrators set policies for system configuration and health. For example, admins can require a client to have specific updates before it is allowed on to the network.

Much like Vista SP1, XP SP3 is an update you’ll almost certainly apply to your PC, but it won’t change your daily computing life. Still, if this really is the end for XP service packs, it’s an important step that will make your machine more secure. Security might not be much fun, but you certainly don’t want to do without it.

*.* Source of Information : March 2008 PC Magazine

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