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Microsoft Completes XP Upgrade

Monday, August 9, 2004;

First things first: I will host a Web chat at 2 p.m. ET today. Although I'd like to think most of you have had the good luck to escape to the beach, I suspect a bunch of y'all will be stuck at work instead. So I'm happy to try to distract you from that unpleasant reality. Submit a question or comment early if you can't be online at 2.

What to talk about for that hour? How about the imminent release of Microsoft's long-awaited, badly needed Service Pack 2 upgrade for Windows XP? "SP2" had its "RTM" on Friday, which is Microsoft-ese for "release to manufacturing." It means that work on the product is done and it can go into distribution. But first it will be provided to PC manufacturers and other partners. It will take a little while longer for the product to show up online and in stores after RTM.

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In SP2's case, the schedule will be a little more complicated than usual. With some 200 million copies of Windows XP in circulation, Microsoft doesn't want everybody to try to download this update at once (no doubt melting its servers into a heap of slag in the process). Volume-license and big-business customers will get the first crack at downloading it from sites set up for them, starting early this week.

By the end of this week or early next week, regular users who have enabled automatic updates will start to see SP2 show up on their machines. (Normally, they'll still have to authorize its actual installation; it would be a very good idea to back up your files first). It won't be until the end of the month that SP2 is available for download to users at large off Microsoft's Windows Update site. At that time, it will also be available on CD-ROM; as with the update CD Microsoft started offering late last year, this one will be shipped free to anybody who asks.

At some point after that, SP2 will also being to be preinstalled on new home computers (you can bet this is one thing we'll be checking up on in our November roundup of home computers).

Why all the fuss about a free maintenance upgrade? SP2 is the most important update Microsoft has shipped since Windows XP itself. It's supposed to fix the worst of the security problems that have afflicted Windows for years -- the firewall that isn't on by default, the network ports left open for no good reason, the browser that allows pop-ups and browser hijacking and much more.

I am keenly interested in trying this out. After reading through the extensive list of changes that SP2 includes, and having a long chat with its developers in Redmond, Wash., this winter, I think that Microsoft's programmers have been asking a lot of the right questions and are trying to take the right approach -- making the operating system secure, even if it means some applications need updates of their own afterwards and users have to do a little more work.

Did they get it right? I'll be giving this update a tryout as soon as I can get my own copy; look for my writeup in print in the next few weeks.

Change in the Personal Tech Line-up

As you may have noticed from the little notice at the end of the Ask the Computer Guy column in yesterday's Post, this Sunday was John Gilroy's last turn as The Post's Computer Guy. He's been writing this column since May of 1994 -- first in the Monday Business section, then in the Tech Thursday, then on Fridays and now on Sundays. By my own count, he's written 519 "Ask the Computer Guy" columns.

But after that many years, it's time for a change. We're still going to have an advice column in that space, but it will now be written by, um, me.

How's that? I'm already answering these types of questions in my Web chats, in these newsletters and in my own e-mail, so the powers that be here decided I might as well answer them in print every Sunday as well. I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do in that space, but I'm also a little nervous -- I know how much time and effort John put into untangling readers' computing conundrums.

The column will not, however, be called "Ask the Computer Guy" anymore. For one thing, I plan on covering more than computing topics in it -- thanks to the ceaseless forward march of technology, home theaters, cell phones, telecom price plans and digital cameras are now every bit as complicated as computers, if not more so. For another thing, as far as I'm concerned, John's earned the right to keep that column title for himself.

We're still figuring out what to call the column instead -- so if you've got an idea, please let me know. Keep on Clickin'

Lastly, one bit of good news about technology: Digital- camera memory cards are more durable than you might have thought.

,p>According to the BBC's recap of the tests the U.K. magazine Digital Camera Shopper recently conducted, CompactFlash, Secure Digital, xD, Memory Stick and SmartMedia cards were "dipped into cola, put through a washing machine, dunked in coffee, trampled by a skateboard, run over by a child's toy car and given to a six-year-old boy to destroy.

"Perhaps surprisingly, all the cards survived these six tests. Most of them did fail to get through two additional tests -- being smashed by a sledgehammer and being nailed to a tree." Just in case, you know, you happen to do that sort of thing for fun.

Digital Camera Shopper is online at www.dcmag.co.uk, but this story doesn't appear to be among those posted online at this registration-required site). And you can check out our archive of digital camera reviews here.

-- Rob Pegoraro (rob@twp.com

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