The computer press is always reporting the news about the latest and greatest from Redmond, both because it is new and because it is profitable. But what about the majority of people, and businesses? It is clear that most people are not early adopters when it comes to spending money, and we know that business has a wait and see attitude in general.

With that in mind, it should be no surprise that, in a recent survey, 77% of polled businesses admit to running at least some machines on Windows XP SP2. Let’s face it, Service Package 2 was a good one, and after some got over the small amount of bitching and moaning over a few programs that were broken by it (I use lots of programs, have had customers that use many more, and I never had trouble with more than 3 programs), the operating system was the very best Microsoft has developed since DOS 5.0.

Perhaps that, and the problems that were revealed with the advent of Service Package 3, are the reasons that not many people who have to support many PCs moved to the addition of the Service Pack that changed a few things to be more like Vista. That last bit of news could also have been a large part of the reticence of many – when SP3 came out, Vista was squarely identified as a pig, and as having many problems previously unknown to the community. No one running XP wanted any part of the porcine behavior of Vista, and Microsoft made it easy for them, by not forcing an upgrade sooner.

Now, it is time to see where the chips fall, as the deadline for support of XP is soon upon us, and people who want updates, and any form of support, will either have to upgrade to Service Pack 3 or move up to Vista or Windows 7.

Will this be a time of shedding machines, so that a shiny new one complete with Windows 7 can be had? Businesses that have some experience with 7 may vote to do that, but those that have none will think over a change to the much smaller changes of  the service pack installation.

Perhaps I have been lucky, but on the machines I use with Windows XP, Service Pack 3 has caused no problems that have been identified as being caused by its addition. I have a Vista and a couple of Windows 7 machines, and I still say that the machines running XP are the most solid.

An article on the Computer World site this morning brings the news of the end of XP SP2’s reign, and the choices faced by many.

Three out of four companies will soon face more security risks because they continue to run the soon-to-be-retired Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), a report published today claimed.

Toronto-based technology systems and services provider Softchoice Corp. reports that 77% of the organizations it surveyed are running Windows XP SP2 on 10% or more of their PCs. Nearly 46% of the 280,000 business computers Softchoice analyzed rely on the aged operating system.

“This is a red alert,” said Dean Williams, services development manager at Softchoice. “This isn’t something you can safely ignore, like you might have before.”

Williams was referring to the impending end-of-support deadline that Microsoft Corp. has set for Windows XP SP2, a service pack that debuted in the fall of 2004. After July 13, Microsoft will stop issuing security updates for SP2, a move that has users scrambling to update to Windows XP SP3, which will be supported until April 2014.

“Windows XP SP2 is deployed in 100% of the companies [surveyed] to some extent,” said Williams. “But that doesn’t tell the whole story. On average, 36% of the PCs in every organization run SP2.”

Softchoice obtained its data from customers of its IT assessment services, which include asset, hardware life cycle and licensing management. It analyzed 278,000 PCs in 117 U.S. and Canadian organizations in education and the financial, health care and manufacturing industries. The firm weighted the number of XP SP2 systems in each polled organization to arrive at the average usage mark of 36%.

Most companies have work to do, Williams said, citing the 10% threshold of Windows XP SP2 systems. “It’s unrealistic to expect them to execute a deployment of Windows 7 in the next three weeks,” he said. “But they should determine who is affected and get them updated to Windows XP SP3 immediately.”

Windows XP SP3, which Microsoft released in May 2008, is available as a free upgrade to all Windows XP users. Microsoft has promised to support XP SP3 with security updates until April 8, 2014.

Softchoice’s data is similar to numbers produced last month by Qualys Inc., which said that approximately half of all enterprise PCs running some version of XP were using SP2.

According to Web metrics company Net Applications, 62.5% of all personal computers worldwide ran Windows XP in May. Net Applications has tracked an 11-point drop in XP’s usage share in the past 12 months.

Williams expects that number to fall even faster with Windows XP SP2’s retirement. “This represents the death knell of XP,” he said. “[SP3] is only a stay of execution.”

Williams urged users and companies still running XP SP2 to update immediately, and he said there’s little risk in doing so. While enterprises may have put off deploying XP SP2 shortly after it launched in 2004 — in large part because it was a major overhaul of the operating system — XP SP3 is essentially just a collection of already-released fixes and patches.

“There’s no compelling reason to delay the move to SP3,” Williams said.

Microsoft has been beating the same drum, reminding users each month’s Patch Tuesday of the looming retirement. In April, the company also made minor concessions on Windows XP SP2 support, announcing that it would take calls from customers running outdated service packs, such as SP2. Previously, it turned those people away.

Windows XP SP3 can be downloaded at Microsoft’s Web site. It can also be obtained via XP SP2 PCs through the Windows Update service.

Since the path is easiest to Service Pack 3, I would suggest its use. If you are the least bit savvy, it might be a great time to do a slipstream (or obtain one) of SP3 onto a Windows install disc. That would make the re-install much easier, and that would make for the cleanest install. If you aren’t so inclined, simply backing up your data, uninstalling unnecessary things (things you may no longer use, or that have been superseded by something else), and doing a spring cleaning of the machine before installing the SP3 update would be fine – you will simply have more stuff, used by Windows to roll back if necessary, in your Windows directory.

Expect the updates for SP3 to follow from Windows update, and the entire process to take several hours, no matter how fast your machine might be. Once completed, you will be set to work without problems until you decide to upgrade, or April 2014, whichever comes first.

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