Service pack or else?

Microsoft Corporation made good on its settlement with the U.S. Justice Department last week when they introduced Service Pack 1, a selection of patches and upgrades for their 10-month old Windows XP platform.

It fixes a number of technical bugs, including the glaring omission of support for the popular Java programming language.

It also makes it possible for computer manufacturers and users to hide Microsoft’s proprietary e-mail, Web browser and media players, giving companies and individuals more freedom to use software by Microsoft rivals.

It also takes care of a few security flaws. Security experts are advising users to download the service pack as soon as possible to repair what PC World calls "a little known but critical vulnerability" that allows files on XP computers to be deleted by clicking a malicious URL.

The service pack, called SP1, could also force thousands of PC users that have acquired bogus copies of the operating system to purchase a legitimate one, depending on what cracked version or method they are using to steal XP.

Like everything Microsoft seems to do, the release of SP1 was controversial. First of all, critics say that Microsoft was informed about the security flaw months before the release of SP1, but did nothing to patch the problem until SP1 was released.

According to C-Net, SP1 includes more than 300 security and performance patches, which seems excessive for a piece of software that was praised for its architectural soundness when it was released.

C-Net only gave SP1 a six out of 10. They praised the scope of the patches, the ease of use, the addition of the Java Virtual Machine and the fact that it comes with an uninstall option. On the negative side, they claimed that the upgrade is too big, weighing in at more than 130 Megabytes. That’s a long download for some people, and an extra $10 if you want to purchase the upgrade CD. One user told people to save their money and just download the free security patches until Microsoft offers a more compelling reason to upgrade.

C-Net also said that not all of the features, including the application default control panel, are all that great, and it isn’t as fast as it could be.

Another controversial XP-ism is the fact that it comes bundled with Media Player 9, an audio and video platform that hasn’t been officially released yet, and it can’t be uninstalled unless you take drastic steps. Typically programs come with uninstallers, but this program is so embedded within the XP architecture that it was clearly meant to stay.

Most people are probably happy to keep Media Player 9, but some users would probably prefer to use an older player that supports portable music players that use either serial or parallel connectors. It also doesn’t support CD burning using Roxio software.

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