Host Access Vendors Wary About Windows XP SP2
July 12, 2004 Alex Woodie
Will Windows XP Service Pack 2 break older host access programs? That is one of the things vendors of Windows-98-era 5250 emulation programs are worried about. Just as IT spending seems to be picking up, Microsoft will make many security enhancements with Windows XP SP2, but representatives with host access vendors, such as NetManage, are concerned that those enhancements will make their legacy emulation programs incompatible with the update to the Windows desktop environment.
In mid June, Microsoft issued Windows XP SP Release Candidate 2. Available for download from the company’s Web site, this post-beta, pre-release code is very close to what we will actually see when Microsoft finally ships XP SP2, which was originally scheduled for delivery this month. Depending on how this round of tests goes, Microsoft may yet issue a third Release Candidate. However, the consensus seems to be that we’ll see general availability of XP SP2 (based on RC 2) in the late July or early August timeframe.
Windows XP SP2 is a major new release that Microsoft says will greatly improve security of the operating system. Among the changes: Microsoft has turned the Internet Connection Firewall on by default; a new wizard walks users through the security setup process; the Messenger service has been disabled by default; a unified security application called the Windows Security Center has been added; NX (no execute) support has been added, which allows NX-enabled CPUs to mark certain areas of memory as non-executable (preventing some malware and viruses from running); a new set of access control restrictions has been added for DCOM for nearly every action of any COM server; the automatic closure of ports after the application using it closes (or crashes); and better control over RPC communications.
While many Windows users are eagerly awaiting the new security features in Windows (which continues to suffer from a barrage of security holes, viruses, worms, and other vulnerabilities), fixing those security problems is likely to create program compatibility problems. In the case of host access software, vendors are already reporting program compatibility issues. “What this has done, for older products, is it has really killed them,” says Jim Raisio, director of product management for host access vendor NetManage. “According to Microsoft, XP SP2 is going to tighten up security aspects. [But] we’ve been told that legacy products will stop working.”
Gregg Ledford, president and chief executive of Zephyr Development, a provider of 5250 and 3270 emulators and host access products, echoes Raisio’s statement. “Emulators may not function well on XP,” Ledford says.
Developers of Windows-based host access software aren’t the only ones feeling the pain from XP SP2. Every company developing Windows programs would do well to test their wares with this Release Candidate before they make plans to deploy XP SP2. While there are Linux and Macintosh versions of client access software available for interacting with OS/400 applications and databases, most users today access their iSeries server through a Windows desktop. Without an accessible Windows workstation, the iSeries is like a Viking longboat without rowers.
But this is not the end of the world. It seems likely that older host access software will not work with XP SP2, which means you will need to upgrade if you’re using older software and planning to move to XP SP2. Luckily, most host access vendors have a collection of migration tools on hand and are more than happy to work with you to move your user profiles, macros, scripts, and other customizations from a Windows 98 machine to a newer Windows XP SP2 system. Many of these vendors also have migration facilities that work with their competitors’ products, too, and now might be a good time to consolidate your host access suppliers and reduce the number of vendors you’re working with, while increasing the security of your Windows network as well.