Microsoft on Tuesday showed off a forthcoming update to Windows designed to make the operating system more secure.

During a speech at the RSA conference by Chairman Bill Gates, Microsoft previewed several new features, including an improved firewall that will be part of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP that is expected to ship later this year. Enterprise security

The company also showed publicly for the first time a Windows Security Center that offers a centralized place to view security settings and get advice on how to evaluate a PC's vulnerabilities.

More than two years after Gates launched the company's Secure Computing Initiative, he reiterated that security is a top priority.

"Everything we are doing has been impacted" by security concerns, Gates said. "It's not a case of simply fixing a few vulnerabilities and moving on."

Microsoft also demonstrated a technology called "active protection technology" that the company says can make computers more resilient in the face of an attack.

Such technology attempts to screen out hostile behavior by an application and can also limit the amount of access a computer has on a network if it has not downloaded the latest patch.

Gates pointed to passwords as another weak link in the security infrastructure, pointing out that passwords are often reused, stored on insecure systems or written down on scraps of paper.

"It just doesn’t meet the needs of anything you want secure," Gates said in explaining Microsoft's decision to offer RSA's SecureID as a better means of authenticating users within Windows.

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