Service Pack 2 (SP2) was released on August 6, 2004 after several delays, with a special emphasis on security. Unlike previous service packs, SP2 adds new functionality to Windows XP, including an enhanced firewall, improved Wi-Fi support with a wizard utility, a pop-up ad blocker for Internet Explorer, and Bluetooth support. It also includes a new API to allow third party virus scanners and firewalls to interface with a new security center application, which provides a general overview of security on the system. This helps to suppress spyware and viruses. Other features include enhancements to the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF), now the Windows Firewall (which is also turned on by default), advanced memory protection that takes advantage of the NX instruction that is incorporated into newer processors to stop buffer overflow attacks, removal of raw socket support (which has caused a drop in "zombie" machines: infected computers that can be used remotely to launch denial of service attacks), improvements to e-mail and web browsing, and Windows Movie Maker 2. Movie Maker 2 has a new interface and more transitions, video effects and options. A full list of service fixes and modifications in SP2 is available on Microsoft's website. When the service pack was released some programs did stop working, and Microsoft officially listed several of them on its website. The company AssetMetrix reports that one out of ten computers that upgraded to SP2 had severe compatibility problems with their applications. SP2 also includes major updates to Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and Windows XP Media Center Edition, and supports 24 new languages. There were also some visual changes made with Service Pack 2. On the opening screen (where it says Microsoft Windows XP with the three scrolling squares), the "(C)1985-2001" designation at the bottom was removed, and the edition name was removed (e.g. "Home Edition" or "Professional"). In addition, the Wireless Network Connection Icon, which used to show two computer symbols (like the LAN Connection Icon) now shows just one, with a radio wave symbol on the right side. While well received in general, Service Pack 2 was not without its critics. Thomas Greene from The Register claimed that SP2 was merely a placebo of sorts in terms of features, fixes, and security updates: "While we found that there are indeed a few minor improvements worthy of acknowledgment, in particular, some rather low-level improvements that don't show to the admin or user, overall, SP2 did little to improve our system's practical security, leaving too many services and networking components enabled, bungling permissions, leaving IE and OE vulnerable to malicious scripts, and installing a packet filter that lacks a capacity for egress filtering."
Yes. Windows XP can be upgraded from the RTM release or a service pack to any subsequent service pack. For example: Windows XP RTM ---> Windows XP Service Pack 3 Windows XP Service Pack 1 ---> Windows XP Service Pack 3 Windows XP RTM ---> Windows XP Service Pack 2 Service Pack 3 is the latest service pack for Windows XP; any planned updates should be to this service pack, and not an older one. As per above, you do not need to install any previous service packs before installing Service Pack 3.
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