1. From the Desk of David Pogue: Windows SP2, Step by Step
A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Service Pack 2. (See:
I concluded that this bundle of security patches for Windows
XP doesn't go far enough in protecting your PC from viruses
and Internet attacks, but it's much better than nothing.
(That's true even if you're already using virus, spyware and
firewall software, because SP2 also includes a long list of
smaller, underlying fortifications against attacks.)
Everyone, I wrote, should install it.
I don't regret those words, but I do regret the number of
people who wrote to report that SP2 "broke" their computers.
They reported everything from programs that no longer work to
PC's that won't even start up. When you're talking about 200
million customers, even half a percent of fouled-up
installations is a heck of a lot of unhappy campers.
These horror stories leave a lot of people in an upsetting
bind. They're afraid to install SP2 because they've heard of
the potential for problems, yet they're afraid to leave their
computers unprotected by its advances.
I spent more time on today's e-mail newsletter than any I've
ever written. It's a step-by-step prep guide for a problem-
free SP2 installation. I wrote it up with the assistance of
Windows experts, Windows book authors and, for final
verification, Microsoft's own Service Pack 2 product manager.
Following these steps makes the upgrade take longer, but will
greatly reduce the likelihood that you'll run into trouble
with SP2. Clip, save and pass around.SEVEN STEPS TO A SMOOTH SERVICE PACK 2 INSTALLATION
The best way to avoid problems is to be slow and methodical
BEFORE you install SP2. Proceed through this checklist with
all the care of an archaeologist unearthing a skeleton.STEP 1: Check your hard drive for free space.
You need at least 500 megabytes of free space, or SP2 won't
even install. (For the speediest installation, defragment
your hard drive first, if you know what that means.)STEP 2: Remove spyware.
Spyware (software that you don't realize you have because it
piggybacked on something else you downloaded, like Kazaa) can
gum up the works of an SP2 installation. Scan your hard drive
using a free program like Ad-Aware (www.lavasoftusa.com
Spybot Search & Destroy (www.safer-networking.org
) to make
sure your PC is free of these programs.STEP 3: Uninstall your virus and firewall programs.
Installing Service Pack 2 on top of outdated utilities can
produce two different unpleasant side effects. First, the new
Security Center doesn't recognize older versions of these
programs. Second, your PC might not even be able to start up
after the installation -- which is, you have to admit,
something of a drawback. (Later, after the installation, put
your virus and firewall programs back -- updated versions, if
possible -- one at a time.)STEP 4: Visit the Web page of your PC manufacturer.
Search for information regarding SP2. It may turn out that
your PC won't work with Service Pack 2 unless you first
update your BIOS (the built-in software that controls your
keyboard, screen, disk drives, communications, and so on). In
that case, you would find, at www.dell.com
(for example), a BIOS updater program that you're supposed to
download and run.STEP 5: Back up your stuff.
If you can back up your entire hard drive, do so; but at the
very least, make safety copies of your photos, email, music,
documents, and so on. Think of it this way: Your PC is going
in for brain surgery.STEP 6: Visit the Windows Update Web site.
A preliminary visit to www.windowsupdate.com
is an important
prerequisite. This Web site will actually interactively
inspect your PC to see what condition your copy of Windows is
in. If you're missing pieces, they'll be filled in for you --
an important step before the big Service Pack 2 installation.
Click the Express Install link to begin. After a moment of
computation, you'll see a list of updates that Microsoft
thinks you need, under the heading High Priority Updates.
Installing them now will ensure that, when Service Pack 2
comes along, your copy of Windows will be everything the
installer expects.STEP 7: Log off everyone but yourself.
In other words, if you have Fast User Switching turned on,
make sure all the other accounts have been signed off.
You should now be ready to install SP2 successfully, whether
from the Windows Update Web page, a CD that you've ordered,
or from the Automatic Updates dialog box that appears on your
screen one day.
Finally, another tip, courtesy of author David Karp, my own
personal Windows XP guru: If your PC is your life -- or your
job, at least -- you may want to take one additional,
advanced step: Install a SECOND copy of Windows XP. This
arrangement, known by geeks as dual-booting, takes some
technical expertise. But it means that you can install SP2 on
the duplicate copy of Windows to test your most essential
programs. That way, you'll know about any potential crises
before committing your "real" copy of Windows to SP2.
-----P.S. Last week, I noted that another approach to avoiding the
nightmare of Windows security hassles is to switch to the
Macintosh, where practical. Many of you challenged my
assertion that there hasn't been a single a Mac virus
outbreak. I should have explained more specifically that I'm
talking about Mac OS X, the Mac's operating system since
Even then, many of you wrote to say, "But if everyone
switches to the Mac, it won't remain virus-free for long. The
only reason the virus writers leave the Mac alone is that its
market share is so small."
The Mac's small market share ("only" 25 million running Mac
OS X) may be part of the explanation, it's but not the only
one; there are some solid technical reasons the Mac is less
susceptible to viruses and Internet attacks, too. For
details, see this earlier column: