Monthly Archives: June 2004

Official info about Windows XP Service Pack 2

This link to the first page of an eight-page Microsoft document for developers about Changes to Functionality in Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 indicates:

“This document specifically focuses on the changes between earlier versions of Windows XP and Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and reflects the current thinking of Microsoft about Service Pack 2 and its implications for developers. Examples and details are provided for several of the technologies that are experiencing the biggest changes: such as remote procedure calls (RPC), DCOM, Windows Firewall (previously called Internet Connection Firewall or ICF), and data execution prevention.”

Though you may not be the type who likes to read documentation, and least of all documentation intended for developers of software programs, one of the things that commends this series of reports is that it follows the same format when discussing each of the changes that SP2 makes, and it does so in depth. Specifically, here are the questions it addresses about each change:

  • What does the thing being changed do?
  • Who does this feature apply to?
  • What existing functionality is changing in Windows XP Service Pack 2?
  • Why is this change important? What threats does it help mitigate?
  • What works differently or stops working? Are there any dependencies?
  • How do I resolve these issues?
  • Do I need to change my code to work with Windows XP Service Pack 2?
  • You’ll note that one of these questions, What works differently or stops working?, is something that we end-users will be very interested in. So if your education taught you to scan documents selectively looking for specific material, you’ll be able to scan this one to get an idea of what may be “broken” by this Service Pack. (I suppose that in the interest of not adding to the hysteria I should point out that “broken” in this sense only means that the operating system, Windows XP, will respond differently to the code in which affected programs are written — not that your computer will be broken in any way.) Remember that this document is addressed to developers of software programs, so it is telling them “here’s what going to change, what that change will affect, and how you can re-write your code so that your program will continue to work after the Service Pack 2 has been applied.”

    For end users like you and I, these explanations will help us be armed with a bit of information that can reduce the anxiety we feel about the “problems” that may be caused by the application of the Service Pack. Just like looking under the bed helped to prove to us there weren’t monsters there when we were children, so knowing what is coming can help lessen our fears about applying the Service Pack.

    I’m much relieved after having read these 8 pages this afternoon. I think references to “chaos” are exaggerations of the actual impact on those of us who are home users. If there is “chaos” it is more likely to occur within business networks that are running Windows XP as their primary operating system, and any chaos seems likely to be of the type that occurs when people panic so that their frightened actions cause more problems than the nature of the problem warrants. True, some home users who haven’t bothered to learn about what is being changed by SP2 may face questions they don’t know how to answer, but the choices they make in answering those questions aren’t likely to be irreversible. They may mean you have to call a computer-savvy friend or a help desk to help you sort them out, but they can be fixed in my opinion.

    Of course, “Time will tell. It is the true test of everything!”

    Will XP’s Service Pack 2 Cause Chaos?

    This article in PC World says: “SP2 is due out in the third quarter, so it could be out as soon as next month. The service pack will be downloaded automatically into many PCs through Microsoft’s Windows Update service and could create problems, including breaking current applications, disrupting networking set-ups, and prompting non-technical users to make PC configuration decisions that may be beyond their grasp.”

    Such dire warnings cause fear in the heart of most computer users, and many of them (us) are not looking forward to having to spend time adjusting settings or dealing with unanticipated hiccups in our online life. Frankly I’m among that group. However, I believe that it’s important to make Windows more secure, so if I have to go through some pain in order to do that, then so be it. I suspect there’ll be a lot of information floating around the online community about what to look for and how to deal with it before this new service pack hits the streets, so I plan to keep an eye out for articles about this upcoming transition, and I’ll try to keep you informed here about what I’ve seen. I’d welcome any of you sharing your discoveries about this event with me too.

    Maybe we’ll be able to get through this if we all share what we’ve learned with each other.

    A laptop is now a part of the mix

    While I was visiting Phil during my recent visit to Georgia for Father’s Day, he graciously offered me his old Toshiba laptop that he was not using. Some time ago he had replaced it with a newer HP laptop and so the Toshiba had fallen into disuse. I was delighted with the acquisition. A laptop is something I’ve always wanted but could never bring myself to opt for when I was purchasing a new computer because one can get so much more in a desktop for the same money. Receiving one as a hand-me-down is the perfect way to acquire one it seems to me.

    Once I got it home, I discovered that it had about 150 pictures that Phil had stored on it from his digital camera. Since the laptop doesn’t have a CD burner on it, I needed to get those pictures from it to my desktop so I could burn them to CD for him, but of course, they were too large to export one at a time on a floppy disk over to the desktop. Even though that would have been possible, doing so would have taken far too much time and work.

    Since I have a Linksys router, all I needed was a NIC (network interface card) to connect the laptop to the router and hence to the desktop. My friend, Josh, had one that he wasn’t using, so he loaned it to me with the possibility of my purchasing it if he doesn’t need it to access his new PDA that he is getting soon.

    Immediately upon plugging the NIC into the laptop, the system recognized and configured it, and I had access to the Internet from the laptop because of it. However, I couldn’t figure out how to get the two systems to see each other on the LAN. I ran the Network Setup Wizard on my XP system which went as expected and set up a network on that machine, but I still couldn’t see the laptop. Last night, however, I finally resolved the confusion and got the two systems to see each other.

    The crucial step I had missed, and the one that to me seems woefully obscure in the instructions that Microsoft provides, is that you must run the Netsetup.exe program on BOTH computers before they can talk to each other. Since that program doesn’t exist on the Windows 98SE operating system on the laptop, I had to copy it from the XP system to floppy and take it over to the laptop and run it on that system. After I ran it and the system rebooted, the two systems communicated with each other as expected. It seems so obvious, as is always the case, now that it is resolved, but before that crucial discovery, I couldn’t figure out why one machine couldn’t see the other.

    Now everything is working together, and I’m quite pleased to have figured out the mystery.

    Robert W. Bemer, 84, Pioneer in Computer Programming, Dies

    In this obituary, The New York Times points out that Robert Bemer, who lived in Possum Kingdom Lake, Tex., (just west of Ft. Worth) at the time of his death “… played an important role in helping develop a standard system of translating letters and numbers into digital code that can be processed by a computer, known as the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, or Ascii (pronounced AS-kee). Before Ascii, computer manufacturers had their own systems for encoding letters and numbers, making it difficult or impossible to exchange data between machines from different computer makers.

    In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Mr. Bemer was one of the foremost advocates who pushed for the standard, under the guidance of the American National Standards Institute (it was later adopted by the International Standards Organization). Ascii was put into effect in 1963, expanded and modified over the years, and it is an enduring standard in computing.”

    Four Large ISPs Almost United on Ways to Fight Spam

    The New York Times reports: “Last month, Microsoft agreed to merge its proposal, called Caller ID, with another, called Sender Policy Framework, or S.P.F., backed by America Online and EarthLink. The new name of the combined standard is Sender ID.

    Yahoo had continued to support a very different approach, called Domain Keys, that is more technically powerful but would take longer to carry out.”

    Everyone except the Spammers themselves I suppose is tired of the flood of spam that besieges us daily. With this near agreement between rivals we may as well get used to some new terms like Sender ID and Domain Keys because they are likely to be prominent in our future vocabulary.

    And as welcomed as a decrease in the volume of Spam would be, I predict that many of us will experience the unintended consequences of this well-intentioned effort to resolve the problem. For instance, I suspect that some of us are going to find that our legitimate mail is blocked, filtered or otherwise disposed of by some of these schemes, just as current Spam blocking programs sometimes falsely classify legitimate mail as Spam.

    Most users of Spam blockers seem to want to “set it and forget it” and when they fail to review the messages classified as Spam by their Spam blocking program, they place too much trust in automation. As good as those programs are, they sometimes fail to identify something as Spam or falsely identify legitimate mail as Spam and therefore they must be supervised closely.

    It is simply a fact of life that if you are going to connect to the Internet you are going to have to take an active role in stopping the influx of unwanted and unsolicited commercial email and the intrusion and takeover of your system by viruses and trojans installed by the criminal element in the online world. Just as you must lock your car and your home each day when you leave them, so you must lock your connection to the world at large through the Internet. The “always on” connection is an “always vulnerable” open invitation to whomever would invade to try their hand. A valuable resource in first discovering your vulnerability and then learning how to address it is Steve Gibson’s ShieldsUp! site. He provides this description of it: The Internet’s quickest, most popular, reliable and trusted, free Internet security checkup and information service. And now in its Port Authority Edition, it’s also the most powerful and complete. Check your system here, and begin learning about using the Internet safely.

    Comments

    To my chagrin, I’ve received feedback from a couple of you what when you’ve tried to use the comment facility here, you were prompted to log into to Blogger to be able to do so. Even before requesting feedback on the “new look,” I had set my preferences so that anyone, even non-members of Blogger, could leave comments, just to avoid that requirement. I have dispatched a message to the support staff at Blogger, but I’m still awaiting a response from the telling me what else I can do to make the comments facility work as I want it to. I’ll let you know when I hear from them. In the mean time, thanks for your patience.

    A New Look

    As is evident, I’ve taken advantage of some of Blogger’s newest features and used a different template for my blog. I actually may be changing the look as I receive feedback on what you, my regular reader (notice the use of the singular noun), think of this one. There are a number of different templates I can choose from, and I’m not sure that the first one I have chosen is the one that I will stick with. You may be seeing several different looks in coming days and weeks until I can settle on a template I like best.

    What I’m trying to achieve by making these changes is a freshness, of course, but also something that is more pleasing to the eye. Readability is a crucial goal, so feel free to comment on that and share your opinion about this change and whether or not you think it is an improvement.

    I’m really quite impressed with all the new features that Blogger has made available with this service since Pyra (the parent company of Blogger) was bought out by Google. If you’ve ever thought you might want to get into the “blogging game,” you will find that creating a blog with this service is easier than you think. The greatest problem in maintaining a blog is not how to use the tool but rather it is having something to say and saying it well.