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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Windows XP SP3

Microsoft released to manufacturers (RTM) the final code for Windows XP SP3. The upgrade provides support for WPA2 and the Peer Name Resolution Protocol (PNRP) used in Windows Vista, among other things. The public version will be available for download via the Web on April 29. Based on our initial installation, the upgrade will be effortless for most Windows XP users.

The last Service Pack for Windows XP, SP2, was released in August 2004. The initial release took some users all night to download and install. The company pushed back the initial public release from June 2004 originally. Despite numerous glitches still present in the code, Windows XP SP2 was formally made public on August 20, 2004, and Microsoft had to work hard to convince users to upgrade.

Microsoft confirmed today that the final version of Windows XP Service Pack 3 has been released to PC manufacturers right on schedule. The update will be available to end users to download next Tuesday, April 29, and pushed to Windows Update in June. A post on Microsoft's TechNet developer site confirmed the release.

Microsoft gave us an early look at the update as a 580MB disk image. What we saw is barely changed from our preview of an early beta of SP3, and seeing Windows XP SP3 for the first time is highly unremarkable.

Far from being a new operating system, Windows XP SP3 is really an accumulation of updates for compatibility, security, and performance. It doesn't contain new features found in Vista, aside from Network Access Protection (NAP), which lets XP systems work with Windows Server 2008's ability to enforce system health requirements before allowing access to network assets. In addition to that feature, the only actually new ones are "Black Hole" Router Detection, more description in the Security Options control panel, kernel-level support for FIPS 140-1 Level 1 compliant cryptography, and a new Product Activation system that allows installation without immediately requiring a product key.

On a 1.5GHz Athlon system with 1GB of RAM, the installation process took a little over an hour. The setup goes through listing third-party drivers, performs a system inventory, checks space for installation, backs up files, installs new OS files, and performs a cleanup. After that, a reboot is required. For a look at the process, see our XP SP3 slideshow .

Windows XP SP3 will be available via Windows Update as a 70MB download and at Microsoft Download Center as a full installation weighing in at 580MB. It will also be made available to volume license customers, TechNet subscribers, and MSDN subscribers. As a cumulative update, it can be installed on top of SP1 or SP2, and works with any edition of XP. The update, however, is not applicable to the 64-bit version of Windows XP. In an overview document, Microsoft specifically mentions that it works with Media Center Edtion, but our preview of the beta noted that Media Center updates were stopped after installing SP3. We haven't yet tested whether this has been corrected, so stay tuned for our results.

Finally, Microsoft noted that the processes system administrators can use to deploy XP to multiple machines have not changed; further information for them is available at Deploy Windows XP Professional.

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