“Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3 has exited its beta phase and entered Release Candidate phase…”
Microsoft Tuesday unveiled the first release candidate for Windows XP service pack 3 (SP3), moving the long awaited final batch of tweaks and fixes for XP closer to reality. As usual, it is now available for download publicly.
The move marks the first opportunity for all users of the six-year-old operating system to try out its final upgrade. Previously, several thousand users were given access to test builds of SP3 only by Microsoft’s invitation.
According to a company spokeswoman, the version that debuts now, dubbed as “release candidate” to note progress from earlier betas, will be available from the Microsoft Download Center. She was unable, however, to say when the service pack would post to Windows Update so users can download and install it with the company’s update service.
Software vendors usually issue a release candidate when they are close to producing a final version of a product or update. It provides a last chance for users to weigh in before a final version is released to manufacturing.
Microsoft says it considers the Release Candidate for Windows XP SP3 to be trial software and warns users to download with caution — and at their own risk. “Microsoft does not recommend installing this software on primary or mission critical systems,” the company states on its Web site.
Originally slated for release in 2006, XP SP3 has been pushed back on numerous occasions, and this marks the first time it has been available for public download.
Earlier this month, Microsoft launched the first release candidate for Windows Vista SP1. Microsoft plans to launch Windows XP SP3 sometime in the first half of next year, with Vista SP1 due in the first quarter.
“While Windows Vista provides the most advanced security and management capabilities of any Windows operating system, Windows XP SP3 will ensure PCs running Windows XP will have the latest updates, as well as compatibility with the Network Access Protection functionality of Windows Server 2008,” Microsoft said in a statement.
The new Service Pack 3 for Microsoft’s previous operating system will feature more than 1,000 hot fixes and patches that have been issued in the past three years, as well as at least four new features, some of which will be ports of Vista tools.
Among them: A feature called Network Access Protection that is borrowed from the newer Windows Vista operating system. A “keyless activation,” which lets IT administrators install SP3 without entering product keys for each copy; and detection of so-called “black hole” network routers that can slow network performance.
The feature should prove popular with corporate IT managers, who often need to oversee hundreds, or even thousands, of operating system installations.
“NAP automatically validates a computer’s “health,” ensuring that it is free of bugs and viruses, before allowing it access to a network.”
J.R. Guthrie, president of Advantage Computers, a system builder in Tucson, Ariz., estimates that XP SP3 speeds up XP’s performance by 15 percent. He adds that XP SP3 will greatly extend the lifetime of market demand for XP, probably even beyond the current Jan. 31, 2009, deadline Microsoft has set for system builders to sell machines equipped with Vista.
According to the white paper, the Download Center version of XP SP3 will weigh in at about 580MB; the version downloaded and installed via Windows Update, however, will be much smaller, typically around 70MB.
Last month, testers over at Devil Mountain Software have analyzed the performance of Windows XP Service Pack 3 build 3244 and found that “testing with OfficeBench showed an ~10% performance boost vs. the same configuration running under Windows XP w/Service Pack 2.”
Windows XP Service Pack 3 build 3244 was also twice as fast as Windows Vista in the OfficeBench benchmark program. They used a Dell XPS M1710 laptop with 2GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 1GB of RAM and nVidia GeForce Go 7900GS video, running Microsoft Office 2007.
Service packs are always helpful to the channel because they take a lot of the hotfixes and put them through more stringent regression testing, says Michael Cocanower, president of solution provider ITSynergy, Phoenix.
Allan Walters, senior vice president at Saratoga Technologies, Johnson City, Tenn., said XP SP3 will greatly reduce administrative overhead. “When you do a brand new load with XP service pack 2, there are nearly 90 additional updates you have to download, so the fact that XP SP3 rolls everything into a single installer package is a major time saver,” he said.
Microsoft is in a bit of a Catch-22 with XP. The more it strengthens the OS, the less reason users have to upgrade to the newer Windows Vista, which by many accounts has failed to catch on with computer users in both the home and office since it debuted in January.
Previous builds of the software update had previously been available only to participants in Microsoft’s official test program, but now it is readily available to the public here:
The final version of Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3 is expected sometime early next year.