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While they are bullish about Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2), PC makers aren’t putting all of their security eggs in the Microsoft basket.

PC vendors are well on their way toward getting SP2, Microsoft Corp.’s most recent operating-system update, preloaded on all of their new machines. But many PC vendors are complementing—and in some cases replacing—SP2 features with third-party products.

Take Hewlett-Packard Co., for instance. HP is currently preloading SP2 on its Pavilion and Compaq Presario lines, as well as on its HP Media Center PCs (which run the Windows XP Media Center Edition variant of SP2).

But HP isn’t using SP2 as is, said Carol Ozaki, senior product manager for consumer PCs at HP. Instead, the company is replacing the Windows Security Center status bar with Symantec’s Norton Security Center.

The company also is offering Symantec’s Norton Personal Firewall and Norton Antivirus preloaded on HP consumer systems. And it is preloading Intermute’s SpySubtract anti-spyware and SpamSubtract spam-filtering software on new systems, to boot.

The Norton Security Center is a utility that allows users to monitor the status of their anti-virus, firewall and Windows Automatic Update components. It parallels almost feature-for-feature the Windows Security Center that Microsoft has built into Windows XP SP2.

While Microsoft has said SP2 provides customers with a first line of defense against attacks, worms and spyware, the company has advised customers to continue to use third-party anti-virus, firewall and other software to which they are accustomed to further secure their PCs.

HP is preloading the Norton Personal Firewall because it is a “much more feature-rich product” than the Windows Firewall that Microsoft includes for free as part of Windows XP SP2, Ozaki said. The Symantec firewall blocks outbound traffic, whereas the Windows firewall blocks only inbound traffic, she added.

Read more here about the Windows Firewall.

At the same time, HP is going to the trouble of removing the Windows Security Center and replacing it with the Norton Security Center because the Symantec product is easier to use, she said.

With Symantec’s offering, “If an antivirus product is not on or up-to-date, you can easily check and turn it on,” Ozaki said. “With the Windows environment, it’s more difficult.”

Microsoft released Windows XP SP2 to manufacturing on Aug. 6. The company began pushing the SP2 upgrade to users via Automatic Update/Windows Update in mid-August. And retailers such as, Best Buy and Circuit City began carrying SP2 in early October.

To read the full story on Microsoft Watch, click here.