Microsoft last week inched another step closer to releasing Windows XP service pack 3, offering up XP SP3 release candidate 2 to a cadre of private beta testers.
Released on Feb. 7, XP SP3 RC2 "catches the build up on previously released hotfixes and responds to critical feedback from previous betas," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email to ChannelWeb.
Microsoft plans to release XP SP3 to manufacturing in the first half of 2008, although the exact timing "will always be based on customer feedback as a first priority," said the spokesperson.
Originally slated for release in 2006, XP SP3 has been pushed back on numerous occasions. The previous XP service pack, SP2, launched in August 2004.
XP SP3 will include all of the fixes Microsoft has released since launching XP in 2001, as well as support for Microsoft's Network Access Protection (NAP); '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.
Last November, researchers from Devil Mountain Software published test results that showed XP SP3 not only offered a performance boost of up to 10 percent over XP SP2, but was also faster than the Vista RC and Vista SP1.
Microsoft responded by claiming that testing of pre-RTM service packs doesn't offer much in the way of useful, accurate data.