Okay, so Microsoft has amazed me in light of their usual track record with software patches, and created a patch that doesn’t appear to blow anything up. Granted, all I use my Windows XP image for is the running of the Copilot remote assistance software, for those especially difficult support sessions. But, I can say that so far, Windows XP Service Pack 3 has broken nothing that I am aware of.
In fact, without reading the documentation for the patch, I would have almost no idea what this patch did accomplish aside from taking an inextricable amount of time to install. That being said, there is one cool feature that I am very happy to see. Windows Vista, being the giant ugly, resource hogging, unusable piece of bloat ware that it is, does have a really cool network level feature called internet black hole detection. Basically, internet black holes are created when less skilled network admins filter way too much of the useful signaling traffic the internet depends on to function properly. This is often done with the careful deployment of many, badly configured firewalls. Don’t get me started on firewalls, they accomplish about one tenth of the things people think they do, but I am getting sidetracked here. The end result of a network that has created a black hole in itself is that a very useful signaling system called Path Maximum Transmission Unit Discovery, or PMTUD is broken. The fallout from breaking this obscure, but tremendously important protocol is that many websites on said black holed network will be randomly inaccessible to many of us end users, who would like to visit those websites. Like I said, Windows Vista has a black hole detection and correction service written into the network level. With the installation of Service Pack 3, Windows XP gains this little feature.
In my opinion, this feature alone makes Service Pack 3 a good choice for immediate installation by most people. PMTUD issues are very frustrating for us, as they are the result of absolutely nothing wrong with our service, but we are usually charged with finding a workaround for them anyways. It is pretty hard for us to fix something that is broken on someone else’s network. But, the addition of this patch into a very mainstream operating system such as Windows XP, means that a general purpose workaround now exists that is readily available by default. The better solution would be to educate other networks about how black holes get created, and why they are so very, very bad. But, I suppose that will never happen. The next best thing is to work around them.