After weeks of intense speculation in the blogosphere and within Microsoft's channel, Microsoft has finally released Windows XP service pack 3 to manufacturing, and has done so with a minimum of fanfare.
A Microsoft partner who requested anonymity confirmed that XP SP3 was released to manufacturing this week to enterprises, and said it should take about three weeks for Microsoft to ramp up production of the media to deliver XP SP3 to the masses.
According to a page on Microsoft's support website, XP SP3 became generally available on March 31. Whether 'general availability' means 'RTM' isn't clear, however. A Microsoft spokesperson said the March 31st date listed on the support page is incorrect, and that the final version of Windows XP SP3 is still on target to be released during the first half of the year.
Microsoft late last month unveiled a refresh to the XP SP3 Release Candidate 2 version it offered to the public in February, but the only new addition was support for high-definition audio. The software giant cited the need to elicit more feedback from testers, but many solution providers believe Microsoft is dragging its feet on releasing XP SP3 for fear that it might divert attention away from Vista.
Further complicating matters is the existence on the Microsoft Download Center of a Windows XP Service Pack 3 Overview document that appears to have been originally published in 2007, but which Microsoft indicates was published on April 1. The document bears no discernable differences from the one Microsoft published to the Download Center in late March, which some industry watchers took as a sign of XP's imminent release.
The Download Center document basically reiterates Microsoft's long standing explanation that XP SP3 simplifies XP deployments by rolling up all the security updates and hotfixes it has released for the OS since XP's launch in 2001. XP SP3 was originally slated for release in 2006, but has been delayed on several occasions.
According to Microsoft, XP SP3 includes Network Access Protection (NAP), the security technology that's also built into Vista and Server 2008; 'keyless activation,' a time saver that allows IT administrators to install XP SP3 without entering product keys for each copy; and detection of so-called 'black hole' network routers that interfere with network performance.
This article was updated to include comment from Microsoft