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Windows XP Unwired

An Inside Look at XP SP2

by Wei-Meng Lee, author of Windows XP Unwired

Microsoft has been readying its update to its flagship Windows XP operating system -- Windows XP Service Pack 2 (XP SP2) -- for some time now. At the moment, it is in Release Candidate 1 (RC1) status, which means the product has reached a certain level of stability and is more or less feature-complete. In this article, I'll walk you through some of the features you can expect to see in XP SP2 when it is finally released in the second half of this year. For now, if you are interested to see for yourself what XP SP2 will look like, download RC1 yourself.

This article is based on the RC1 release of the SP2; be forewarned that you should not install RC1 on your production machines. Install it on your spare machine or better still, a virtual PC.

When SP2 is installed, you will find the Windows Security Alerts icon in the Tray (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1. Locating the Windows Security Alerts icon in the Tray

Clicking on the icon will reveal the Security Center window (see Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2. The Security Center

The Security Center revolves around three main areas that protect your computer:

  1. Firewall: This is an improved version of the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) in Windows XP (prior to SP2).
  2. Automatic Updates: Updates are by default automatically downloaded and installed on your system.
  3. Virus Protection: SP2 will scan for an anti-virus program on your system. If none is found, it will constantly remind you that your computer is at risk.

You can also find the links to the following in the Security Center:

  • Internet Options: Allows you to configure your Internet Explorer settings.
  • System: Allows you to configure automatic updates.
  • Windows Firewall: Allows you to configure the built-in Windows Firewall.

Windows Firewall

The Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) in Windows XP is now called Windows Firewall, and is enabled by default (see Figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3. Windows Firewall

By default, Windows Firewall blocks all outside traffic, with the exception of the ports used by the services listed in the Exceptions tab (see Figure 4). The Exceptions tab lists all of the programs and services that you will allow traffic to pass through your computer. You can manually add applications into the list, or explicitly grant the port number.

Figure 4
Figure 4. The Exceptions tab in Windows Firewall

When an application (for example, ICQ) requires a particular port number in order to communicate, Windows Firewall will display a prompt asking for your permission to block/unblock the port (see Figure 5).

Figure 5
Figure 5. Unblocking or blocking a port used by an application

If you unblock the application, Windows Firewall will automatically add the application into its Exception tab (see figure 6).

Figure 6
Figure 6. Adding an application into the Exception tab

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