Companies cautious with Windows XP SP2 upgrade

Service Pack 2 has been installed on less than a quarrter of all Windows XP PCs in businesses, according to a new study.

Companies are taking their time before installing Service Pack 2 on Windows XP machines, with slightly less than a quarter currently upgraded, according to a new study published on Monday.

In a survey of PCs at 251 businesses in the U.S. and Canada, asset tracking company AssetMetrix found that only 24 percent of the systems running Windows XP had been upgraded to Service Pack 2 (SP2).

AssetMetrix surveyed 136,120 PCs between Jan. 5 and March 10. It found that 37.6 percent of those PCs ran Windows XP. The operating system is more widely adopted among companies with fewer than 500 PCs, where slightly more than half of the PCs run Windows XP, according to the study. Also, smaller organizations show the highest acceptance of SP2, it said.

"The popularity of Windows XP SP2 tends to decrease slightly as company size increases," according to the study. But overall "more companies are tending to hold back on SP2 than accept it," AssetMetrix said.

Of the 251 companies surveyed, 44 had fewer than 10 PCs running Windows XP. Eighty-four, or 40.7 percent, of the remaining companies had not installed SP2 from their XP machines, while 16 companies, or 7.7 percent, had updated their XP-based PCs, according to the AssetMatrix study.

Microsoft released SP2 in August last year. The update makes significant changes to Windows in the name of increased security. As a result, SP2 can render existing applications inoperable. Because of those changes, many businesses want to hold off on installing the update and are taking time to test the update with their systems.

The AssetMetrix report comes as a special option runs out for users of the Automatic Updates feature in Windows XP to block the SP2 download. Faced with concerns from business users, Microsoft made available a tool that allows users to set a Windows registry key that will keep the system from downloading and installing the service pack until April 12.

Microsoft advises consumers to enable Automatic Updates, but recommends businesses use patch management tools such as its Systems Management Server (SMS) and Software Update Services (SUS) or third-party products. However, some business users said they also rely on Automatic Updates and requested the blocking tool.

Microsoft has labeled SP2 a "critical" update and urges all Windows XP users to install it. Take up by enterprise customers is in line with Microsoft's expectations. In February, the company said 77 percent of about 800 enterprise customers surveyed in late 2004 planned to deploy SP2 sometime in mid-2005.

As of last February, Microsoft said 170 million copies of SP2 had been distributed.

AssetMetrix recommends companies install SP2, but only after proper testing.

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