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Tuesday, 22 April 2008 06:58

Microsoft sets SP3 free for Windows XP - at last!

On the cusp of Microsoft’s decision to demote Windows XP from a retail product into one that is only available for ultra-low cost PCs, the long-awaited Service Pack 3 (SP3) has finally gone RTM, with consumers able to start manually downloading it from April 29. Will horror installation stories follow?
The news that XP SP3 has finally gone to RTM has reverberated across the web, fuelling the campaign that wants to Save XP, with XP now set to become even better, more stable, more compatible, safer and more mature than ever.

XP SP3 was officially announced at Microsoft’s TechNet Forums in a blog posting by Chris Keroack, Release Manager, Windows XP Service Pack 3 of the “Windows Serviceability” division.

Keroack said in his blog post that: “Today we are happy to announce that Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) has released to manufacturing (RTM). Windows XP SP3 bits are now working their way through our manufacturing channels to be available to OEM and Enterprise customers.”

In terms of availability, Keroack says that Microsoft is in “the final stages of preparing for release to the web (i.e. you!) on April 29th, via Windows Update and the Microsoft Download Center.”

This presumably means the update will be available for any Windows XP Home, Professional and Media Center that chooses to manually install it, but slightly unhelpfully, the blog post does not make this clear. However Keroack does say that “For customers who use Windows XP at home, Windows XP SP3 Automatic Update distribution for users at home will begin in [the] early [Northern Hemisphere] summer.”

In the blog’s comments section, a commenter by the name of ArnehK asks if SP3 for “XP Embedded and Windows Fundamentals also be available on April 29th or will they be available at a later date?”, Microsoft’s Chris Keroack replies that “XP Embedded and Windows Fundamentals will be available at a later date.”

So, what odd thing has Microsoft done to MSDN and TechNet users this time? And will Microsoft dare to chop XP sales off at the knees, especially now that XP’s latest and greatest update, SP3, is now RTM at last? Please read onto page 2.

Also odd is Keroack’s reply to a question by Inaam786 as to whether SP3 “has been released for MSDN subscribers”, with the reply being “MSDN/Technet - Not yet. This will be available within the next month.”

Why do MSDN and TechNet subscribers need to wait when the download will be made available from Windows Update and the Microsoft Download Center?

Perhaps the MSDN and TechNet updates will contain code to make deployment of the update easier, or perhaps there’s some other reason, but it just seems unnecessary – especially when XP SP3 isn’t going to suffer weeks/months long delays in availability as was the case with Vista SP1 after it went into ‘nominal RTM’ on February 4th.
So, what else did Keroack have to say about XP3, while thanking all those who took part in the public betas?

Keroack’s blost post continues: “Online documentation for Windows XP SP3, such as Microsoft Knowledge Base articles and the Microsoft TechNet Windows XP TechCenter, will be updated then. For customers who use Windows XP at home, Windows XP SP3 Automatic Update distribution for users at home will begin in early summer.” 

Keroack then offers his thanks to the public, saying: “Thanks to everyone here who installed the public betas – you not only gave us detailed feedback but also helped each other out with timely troubleshooting. Through the beta program we found several important issues and were able to confirm some essential fixes. We couldn’t have done this without you.”

Which is quite right. Public beta testing has become an incredibly invaluable part of any software development process, and especially important when you are developing an operating system relied upon by millions, even if Microsoft’s EULA disclaims all responsibility for anything.

So, will there be XP SP3 update horror stories, as always seems the case with just about any update from anyone, these days? Please read onto page 3.

If only the Vista beta – and Vista SP1 beta processes – could have been as smooth as has seemingly been for XP SP3, although if history is any guide, we’re now likely to see SP3 horror stories. I certainly hope we don’t, but when hasn’t there been horror stories after virtually any update – from Microsoft or others – becomes available?

Keroack ends by saying: “We will still be monitoring this forum during the next few weeks in case you have more feedback about the release of Windows XP SP3. On behalf of myself, Shashank Bansal and Windows Serviceability, many thanks.”

So... the great XP SP3 upgrade cycle will soon begin for those that want it, and in a few months, will become an automatic update for XP users.

As with any update, it’s probably safest to see what the reaction from other users is first. XP SP3 promises to be a smooth upgrade, speeding up XP by 10%, giving it increased security from elements of Vista and a general raft of fixes, updates and patches.

It’s just an incredible shame that the best version of XP yet will, in theory, soon be unavailable to the general population, most of whom still aren’t ready to jump on the Vista SP1 bandwagon, with some even waiting for its successor, Windows 7.

Will Microsoft let XP SP3 retail sales be, as the key to keeping XP loving users happy? Or will Microsoft cut down the XP SP3 tree, forcing users to use Vista, seen by some as mighty crappy?

We’ll just have to wait and see. Until then, XP users, enjoy your SP3!



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One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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