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The world must wait until late July at the earliest until Microsoft Corp. delivers the final release of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). But that isn’t stopping testers and customers from asking what Microsoft’s intentions are, in terms of back-porting the SP2 updates and fixes to other Microsoft operating systems and related products.

Despite an official silence on the topic, Microsoft is cooking up a plan, sources said. However, Windows customers running older versions of the operating system or specific programs should expect a piecemeal approach to SP2’s security-minded features.

SP2, code-named “Springboard,” is primarily a collection of security fixes. With SP2, Microsoft is turning on its built-in Windows Firewall by default; including new browser and e-mail safeguards and enhancing XP’s memory protection features, company officials have said.

Microsoft late Monday offered Windows XP Service Pack 2 Release Candidate 2 (RC2) to a narrow group of developers and testers. Insiders expected the company to provide the RC2 package widely on Tuesday.

During a Web cast held Tuesday for Microsoft system builders—those PC and server vendors that sell products preloaded with Microsoft software—participants asked Microsoft officials repeatedly about the company’s plans to make SP2 features, especially security, available for older versions of Windows and Internet Explorer (IE).

A Microsoft representative responded: “There is no information available on if the features seen in SP2 version of IE will be available for other operating systems.”

What can developers and enterprise managers expect from Service Pack 2?’s Larry Seltzer says to expect trouble. Click here to read more.

Later in the Web cast, another anonymous Microsoft individual answering participant questions elaborated a bit further: “We do not have current plans to make the IE enhancements available in XP SP2 available on Windows 2000, NT 4, Windows 98 or Windows Me (Millennium Edition). We are evaluating the technical feasibility of providing the new IE enhancements for older Windows versions. ”

Securing older versions of Windows and IE is a concern of many IT managers, as many companies still run these legacy systems—and not the latest Windows releases. But Microsoft’s focus with its “XP Reloaded” marketing campaign, in particular, is to convince recalcitrant customers to upgrade, not to give them reasons to justify holding out.

Microsoft officials have said that the SP2 updates will be applied to the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 and Media Center Edition 2005 products due out this year. It also plans to make the applicable SP2 updates available for the Internet Explorer 6 code that is part of Windows Server 2003. (These updates will be part of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003, due out later this year.)

But Microsoft has other back-porting plans for the Springboard technologies, too, said testers who requested anonymity.

Microsoft is “highly likely” to make the Springboard updates available for IE 6 for Windows 2000 Service Pack 5. And it has told some of its partners that it is considering strongly making the IE-specific Springboard updates available for Windows NT, Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows Millennium Edition, the testing sources said.

However, Microsoft is dead-set against porting Springboard to “standalone” versions of IE: IE 6 Service Pack 2 and IE 5.5, the testing sources added.

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