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Service Pack With a Smile

Wednesday, August 18, 2004;

Microsoft's Service Pack 2, perhaps the company's most important software upgrade in years, is expected to be released to the public today. But if the version the company released for developers and computer makers on Aug. 6 is any indication, "SP2" does not get along well with several popular computer games and antivirus and security applications.

Among them, according to Microsoft, are Zone Labs's Zone Alarm firewall software, McAfee Virus Scan, Yahoo Messenger, Real Player, Kazaa, MusicMatch Jukebox, Microsoft Outlook 2002 and 2003 and Adobe's Photoshop Elements.

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Many of the problems stem from the Windows Firewall program, which includes new protections against hackers and viruses. Trouble is, the beefed-up firewall also blocks some legitimate programs from sending or receiving updates on the Internet.

Microsoft has published ways for users to get around these problems, but computer users who are not terribly comfortable with tech-speak might find the details a bit overwhelming at first.

A central feature of SP2 is a new Windows Security Center that checks to make sure a PC's antivirus software and patch levels are up to date, and that the firewall is turned on. In some cases, however, the security center doesn't properly detect that your PC contains the latest antivirus updates, even if they are current.

Microsoft doesn't offer fixes for every software problem introduced by SP2; sometimes it's up to the other software developer. For example, Symantec recently had to release an update to allow the Windows Security Center to detect whether the latest Norton Antivirus definitions have been installed.

For a complete list of programs that have known issues with Service Pack 2 installations, check Microsoft's Web site. And remember to keep a lookout for the public version of SP2 at Microsoft's Windows Update Web site.

You Can Never Be Too Secure

SP2 probably will get a fresh round of scrutiny once the public version goes live, but The Washington Post already devoted a series of articles to the subject of cybersecurity shortly after the service pack debuted for corporate Windows XP users. Post columnist Rob Pegoraro compared Windows's design to that of a country house in the middle of a lake, but suddenly transported to the big city. That, he said, makes SP2 indispensable for XP users. Also see the transcript of Rob's live discussion on SP2 with post.com readers from Monday.

But XP represents only about half of the total Windows user base in the world. The approximately 200 million other copies of windows out there include versions like 2000/NT, ME, 98 and 95, all of which need their owners to provide them strong security defenses as well. washingtonpost.com reporter Brian Krebs wrote about some of the things that users of those older versions can do. Krebs also wrote a short instructional for backing up data before your computer crashes.

washingtonpost.com reporter David McGuire offered tips to avoid falling prey to e-mail threats such as phishing scams, viruses and spam, both in an article and in a short how-to that you can print out or clip to your refrigerator or bulletin board.

Finally, Post reporter Kathleen Day detailed her experience as an "average" computer user whose home computer was overrun by spyware, viruses and all manner of online nastiness, while Post IT expert Glenn Paterson contributed his account of how he eventually was able to fix the computer ... but not without a struggle.

You can navigate through the entire cybersecurity package here.

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