Desperately seeking SP2

We’ve been hearing about SP2 for Windows XP for so long and frankly, dreading it. I know that Microsoft has been trying to address these concerns, but a big software release/upgrade like this is going to undoubtedly create a large user support issue. And considering that’s a huge chunk of my department’s business, we’re all a little worried.

But even after they announced that the code was finalized (no more release candidate teases), SP2’s still not available for individual computers. Granted, it’s available for IT professionals as a huge download, but the Microsoft TechNet site emphatically tells you not to use it for individual computers. Making it available earlier for IT professionals is helpful because we get a slight taste of what’s to come, but we’re not worried about our centrally managed computers breaking. It’s easy to just re-image them and apply a fix. No, we’re worried about thousands of students out there in the dorms installing SP2 on their individual computers all with their own configurations, setups, and quirks. And even if solving people’s problems are just simple preference and setting changes, it’s a huge user education and support issue. So, I desperately want to go through what an individual computer upgrade/install scenario would be like, but They. Just. Won’t. Let. Me. And honestly, I don’t want to get it through a special download (i.e., I want the go through the experience as close to the way students will experience it as possible), but it doesn’t really help matters when Microsoft squashes Downhill Battle’s attempts to share SP2 over P2P. Microsoft could have really won some major cool points by letting continue– it not only demonstrated a great way to use P2P networks, but also ease the burden of distributing a free upgrade that’s supposed to deliver improved quality of service for Microsoft customers.

But the thing that really just hurts my feelings is that the release for individual computers is scheduled for August 25. That’s right in the middle of the major fall back-to-school time for most universities. Even at a quarter-system school like Stanford, you start getting students trickling in right around that date and then the move-in numbers increase through the end of September with two major bursts– one for incoming freshmen and other new students and one for everyone else. And Microsoft might think they’re being smart by encouraging people to turn on Automatic Update so that they can break up the distribution and keep people off of Windows Update, but after the RPC vulnerabilities from last summer, lots of schools might require SP2 before allowing student computers on the network. So, despite their tricky Automatic Update plan, there’s a good chance that lots of students are going to actively pull SP2 from Windows Update rather than waiting for it to be pushed out to them over Automatic Update.

Well, I guess we’ll just have to brace ourselves for the inevitable Windows headache that happens every fall. You know, I really do like Microsoft and Windows most of the time, but their sensitivity to universities and the higher education community is just… well, stupid.

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