At Your Service Pack


Q: I recently installed Service Pack 2 on my Windows XP machine, and now the system’s gone all screwy: Internet Explorer won’t display animations right, I can’t play WarCraft III, and Yahoo Instant Messenger is toast. Is it just me, or is Service Pack 2 nothing but a gremlin?

A. Mr. Roboto’s been deluged with SP2 gripes since Microsoft released the fix back in August. Count yourself blessed that you’ve only experienced some performance quirks; there’s been many a horror story of deleted drivers or system files, leading to wiped hard drives and the like. You can try a few tweaks to smooth things out, though truly righting the ship might require going back to square one for a reinstall.

Now, don’t get the impression that SP2’s all bad. Aside from closing some gaping security holes, the massive patch also beefs up XP’s Wi-Fi capabilities, adds Bluetooth support, and installs a fairly effective pop-up blocker. You can probably survive without installing SP2, of course, but Mr. Roboto’s going to err on the side of caution and say it’s worth the effort—especially for you broadbanders out there, who make tasty prey for hackers. (Feel free to install SP2 if you’re a dial-up user, too, but don’t download it; rather, order the free CD from

Before you installed SP2, you should’ve give your system a thorough cleansing. Spyware, in particular, can muck up SP2, so it’s imperative that everyone run either Spybot ( or Ad-Aware ( first. It’s also good to sanitize your storage areas, by right-clicking on all your hard disks, selecting Properties, and hitting the Disk Cleanup button.

Above all—and Mr. Roboto hates to be a broken record with this advice—you must, must, must back up your system before installing SP2. That means downloading all your documents and personal data to an external hard disk, and using Norton Ghost or a similar program to take a “snapshot” of your settings.

Okay, so you’ve got SP2, and things are amok despite your best efforts. For starters, if you have applications that are acting up, check out article 884130 on Microsoft’s Knowledge Base ( for a list of programs that get agita from SP2. A lot of antivirus scanners, firewalls, and multiplayer games don’t work right with SP2. Microsoft says that it’s dealing with these compatibility issues and that the blacklist should shrink considerably in the coming months.

The big problem seems to be that, with SP2 installed, the Windows Firewall is switched on by default, and is overly wary of programs that request Internet access. Rather than fiddle with the built-in settings, Mr. Roboto recommends that you turn the firewall off entirely, and opt instead for ZoneAlarm (, which is much smarter and easier to contol.

As for those Web animations and Yahoo IM, sounds like it’s a case of SP2 turning off ActiveX by default. Not a terrible idea, as ActiveX can be a good way for malware to infect your system, but a real bummer if you’re, like, trying to IM someone. Easy enough to fix, though—just go to the Security tab under Internet Options, and customize the ActiveX settings to your liking.

Worse comes to worst, you can always just uninstall SP2 and try again. Just don’t touch anything in the Add/Remove Programs panel that says “Hotfix.” Do that, and you’re in a world of pain. The bad kind of pain.

Catch a spark

Let us sing the praises of Firefox, shall we? Firefox is Mozilla’s latest open-source Web browser, and it’s a doozy—a much quicker worker than Internet Explorer, and much more immune to the menace known as spyware. Also, Firefox’s pop-up blocker is more agile than IE’s latest. Snag the free download from, import your IE bookmarks and page-view history, and you’ll become a convert right quick.


Congrats to Wikipedia (, the world’s largest encyclopedia, for garnering its millionth entry. It’s an all-volunteer affair, you realize, and they don’t accept ads, either. Won’t you be a saint and kick them over a few bucks during their pledge drive? Visit for the details; pledge enforcement vans are standing by to shake you by the ankles.