Monday, May 12, 2008

Two reasons not to install Windows XP SP3

There are two reasons you should not install Windows XP SP3:

  1. Windows XP SP3 is not ready for you
  2. You are not ready for Windows XP SP3

1. Why is Windows XP SP3 not ready for you?

It is admirable for Microsoft to offer an upgrade to a product already replaced by Vista and not sold after June 30, 2008. While this strategy may not be in Microsoft's best interests, I appreciate the company's continuing development of my old proprietary operating system.

It is a cheap shot at Microsoft to say Windows XP SP3 is not ready for installation. Operating systems are incredibly complex, and the installation of a service pack with a large collection of patches and new features will often fail. There is no company in the world that is capable of providing a defect-free operating system upgrade on the scale of Windows XP SP3.

Microsoft released Windows XP Service Pack 3 on May 6, 2008. I recommend waiting until the third week in June before you install it. This will give Microsoft six weeks to detect and fix bugs that affect a significant number of Windows XP SP2-based computers.

I know that millions of less risk-averse and risk-aware computer owners will install SP3 this month with no resulting problems. Perhaps I am just being too cautious...

2. Why are users not ready for Windows XP SP3?

A. They have not made Microsoft's recommended pre-installation preparations.

Unlike many software providers, Microsoft stresses the importance of users taking specific steps and understanding related information prior to installing service packs. This information is contained in the SP3 Release Notes. Unfortunately, most people would rather go to a dentist than read release notes.

The SP3 Release Notes contain information about pre-installation steps, hard disk space requirements, application compatibility, corrected problems with SP3, and Microsoft customer support resources.

The Release Notes recommend several ways to repair the damage resulting from an unsuccessful installation. This includes a full backup of the files on the computer. Despite this sound advice, most users will simply press, "Install" and hope for the best.

B. Your computer and current version of Windows XP SP2 do not work well.

SP3 will not miraculously fix problems with corrupted code, improper OS settings, or intermittently malfunctioning hardware. I would not feel comfortable installing SP3 on a flaky system. Fix these problems before they become masked or further complicated by the upgrade.

After a complete backup, users may consider the preparation for SP3 as an appropriate time to update the BIOS firmware, upgrade the hardware (replace the hard drive, add RAM, etc.), remove accumulated dust, and perform a fresh installation of Windows XP SP2. A small investment in hardware can improve the performance and extend the useful life of your XP-based computer.

C. The user has not confirmed that essential applications will continue to work.

Before installing SP3, I recommend reviewing your list of installed applications and deleting every unused program. During this assessment, list the programs that must be compatible with SP3 and confirm that they will work in their upgraded environment.

Computer upgrades need to be considered on a case-to-case basis. If you are not completely familiar with every phase of a hardware or software upgrade, consult a technical expert who knows your computing requirements and budget.

Disclaimer: I am reasonably pleased with Windows XP (every system has its drawbacks), and for the next 12 months, I have no plans to buy or install Vista. My company's PC hardware should be adequate to meet our computing needs for the next 18 months. By then, we will consider every option including Linux, Vista, and its successor.

Copyright 2008 Donald French, IAPS All rights reserved.

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