Building your own XP Service Pack 4


Susan bradley By Susan Bradley

Starting today, Windows XP users will have 860 more days of official Microsoft support — and on every one of those days, many of those users will continue to run the operating system that just won’t die.

Want to extend the life of your Windows XP Service Pack 3 as long as possible? You can do so by installing Microsoft hotfixes as needed.

It’s ironic that the official Windows XP End of Support Countdown Gadget runs only on Vista and Windows 7. Perhaps Microsoft will offer a paper-based advent calendar for its XP users. Regardless of Microsoft’s schedule, a significant number of people will continue to use XP well past the deadline. Their practical reasons range from line-of-business needs to the economy to “It still fills all my needs.”

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According to Microsoft, XP SP3 is the end of the line — there will not be an SP4. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build your own virtual version of SP4. Just use the hotfixes Microsoft develops over the remaining years of official support.

As far as Windows is concerned, hotfixes are essentially the same as the Windows updates you regularly receive from Microsoft. There are, however, some practical differences: for example, hotfixes are not put through the same level of rigorous testing that the standard updates get. (Yes, I can hear you chuckling. As we all know too well, updates have issues — despite that rigorous testing.) Also, some hotfixes are downloads and some are changes you configure manually. Updates are always downloaded patches. (A hotfix isn’t the same as a Microsoft Fix it, which is typically temporary and often limited to Windows Registry or permissions changes.)

Like most updates, hotfixes are designed to repair a specific problem. However, Microsoft warns users that they should install a hotfix only if they know they have the specific problem the hotfix addresses. That said, as long as I’ve backed up my system (or can check the hotfix on a test system), I don’t have any greater concerns about applying a hotfix than I do with an update — as long as the hotfix can be uninstalled. Some (such as KB 954550, listed below) cannot be removed with Windows’ Add and Remove Programs utility.

Picking through the list of Windows XP hotfixes

There are dozens of available hotfixes, and you won’t need — or want — them all. A Microsoft TechNet blog has a comprehensive list for XP SP3 systems. Again, not all of them will apply to your specific system, and you should install only those that fix a specific problem already afflicting your PC. Here’s my short list of potential XP problems — ones you might see yourself — with published hotfixes:

  • 948239: Your XP-based computer locks up when you click the Cancel button in a dialog box.

  • 951126: When you resume from system hibernation, a multiprocessor computer running Windows XP hangs and displays a black screen.

  • 953979: After installing SP3, Windows’ Device Manager does not show devices, and Network Connections does not list any network connections.

  • 954550: You’re missing Microsoft XML Paper Specification (XPS) features; this hotfix adds them to Windows XP.

  • 961555: Your computer randomly crashes.

  • 968967: When an application or service uses MSXML 6.0 to handle XML requests, CPU usage climbs to 100 percent.

  • 969744: Underlines are missing on printed documents.

  • 970048: You have slow printing performance when using the Line Printer Remote (LPR) print protocol.

  • 970922: TIFF documents are corrupted when you rotate them in Windows Picture and Fax Viewer.

  • 971455: A Windows XP SP3 machine cannot authenticate a wireless router that uses Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) technology (designed to add devices to a network easily) because the router is configured for Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP).

  • 972828: When you’re copying files from a Windows Server 2008-based remote computer to a local Windows XP SP3 system via Remote Desktop Connection 6.1, the files become corrupted.

  • 981669: During installation, a Microsoft Windows Installer package hangs. In this specific case, the Installer package is made up of smaller, chained-together packages and the installer has custom actions.

  • 2454533: After installing the security update in MS Security Bulletin MS10-066 (KB 982802), Windows XP SP3 no longer displays the description of a shared folder that is mapped to a network drive.

How to request a hotfix from Microsoft

For many MS Hotfixes, you’ll find a convenient Hotfix Download Available icon and a link (shown in Figure 1) in the upper-left section of their online-support pages. (You won’t find a simple download link — you have to send an e-mail request to Microsoft support. The hotfix will then be sent to you.)

Retrieving the full hotfix
Figure 1. The hotfix-available indicator.

For hotfixes that don’t come with that handy link, here’s a neat trick: grab the URL for a hotfix that does have the icon, paste it into your browser, and then edit the KB number. For example, take

http://support.microsoft.com/hotfix/KBHotfix.aspx?kbnum=981669&kbln=en-us

and change the 981669 to 2454533 — or 953979, or any other hotfix lacking the download-link icon.

Bottom line: There are still a couple of good years left in Windows XP. Undoubtedly, it’ll be used right up to the end of its official, extended-support phase (April 8, 2014) — and beyond, whether Microsoft likes it or not. (For more on Windows XP lifecycles, check out the operating system’s support lifecycle chart.)

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The Patch Watch column reveals problems with patches for Windows and major Windows applications.
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Susan Bradley

About Susan Bradley

Susan Bradley is a Small Business Server and Security MVP, a title awarded by Microsoft to independent experts who do not work for the company. She's also a partner in a California CPA firm.