Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    Microsoft making headway in plugging security leaks

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Business in Vancouver May 11-17, 2004; issue 759 High Tech Office column

    It's easy to get on software giant Microsoft's case about the ongoing flood of Windows security issues. Every time there's another virus outbreak, expect to hear a chorus of Microsoft bashing. Even when the company tries to make it right, as with its recent release of fixes for 20 different flaws, Microsoft gets complaints.

    Some days it just doesn't pay a monopoly to get out of bed.

    But Microsoft really is trying to get it right, with a number of recent initiatives as evidence that it's working hard. Many computer users have had the experience of going to Microsoft's Windows Update website only to be told that their computer needed several dozen "critical updates," requiring hours online and multiple restarts. Microsoft is trying to help ease the pain with a Windows Security Update CD. Available free (even including free courier delivery) from, it works with Windows versions from Win98 on, automatically detecting the installed version, and providing recommended updates and patches.

    Inevitably, it's not got the latest patches; after running the CD, a trip to the Windows Update site will still be necessary, but the number of fixes needing to be downloaded will be greatly reduced. If you manage your own Windows computer, get this CD.

    Free update CDs for Microsoft Office 2000 and XP versions are also worthwhile. In this case, go to, find the More About Updates section, and then click on Order Office service packs on CD-ROM.

    In addition, the company is hard at work at a major upgrade for Windows XP users. Service Pack 2 should be available mid-year, offering enhanced security features. For example, XP's built-in firewall will now screen outgoing Internet access, bringing it more on a par with products such as ZoneAlarm. And where earlier versions tended to leave many security settings off by default, this version turns on the firewall and automatic downloading of security patches unless the user explicitly chooses to do otherwise.

    A new Security Center puts many of the various Windows XP security-related options in a single location, easier to access than wending your way through multiple Control Panels.

    If you like living on the edge, you can download SP2's Release Candidate 1 from Just be prepared for a nearly 300-MB file. I've been running this pre-release version without problem, but your mileage may vary.

    Microsoft has usually made its various service pack releases available free or for a nominal shipping charge if CDs are required. In some cases where new operating system features were bundled in, as with Windows 95B's FAT32 support for large hard drives, or 98SE's Internet Connection Sharing, Microsoft did not make them available for general downloading. In this case, I would think the company would want to make XP SP2's security improvements available as widely as possible.

    It will be a while, however, before the company releases a next generation Windows. At the March Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates suggested that the company's Longhorn version shouldn't be expected before 2006. Very preliminary Longhorn versions have featured updates to core operating system features, including a new database-like file system allowing users to do advanced searching along with dramatic improvements to the basic communications and graphics features.

    Company officials have been mum about rumours that Microsoft will release an interim for-sale version of Windows after the upcoming Service Pack 2 but prior to the far away Longhorn, a strategy similar to the one that saw Microsoft market Windows ME to consumers to fill the gap in significant upgrades between the release of Windows 98 and XP. The gap between XP's 2001 release and Longhorn's expected 2006 release would be the longest time Microsoft has gone without the revenue-boost of a new Windows version.

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan