Microsoft Stokes The Fires Of XP SP3 Anticipation

The curiously-timed document, which was published Friday, doesn't explore much new ground, and basically reiterates that XP SP3 simplifies XP deployments by rolling up all the security updates and hotfixes Microsoft has issued for the OS since launching it in 2001.

Microsoft, as it has coyly stated on numerous occasions, plans to release XP SP3 through Windows Update and the Download Center sometime during the first half of the year. In the recent document, Microsoft said users downloading XP SP3 through Windows Update can expect a file of about 70 megabytes in size, while those obtaining it from the Download Center can expect a much larger file of about 580 megabytes.

XP SP3 will include 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 SP3 without entering product keys for each copy; and detection of so-called 'black hole' network routers that interfere with network performance.

Keyless activation will allow administrators to bypass Windows Product Activation during the installation process and enter codes later on through Windows Genuine Advantage. However, Microsoft noted in the document that this applies only when installing XP from integrated source media.

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Microsoft has also altered the Security Options control panel in Windows XP SP3, adding more descriptive text in an effort to help prevent configuration errors that can allow attackers to more easily compromise systems, according to the document.

Windows Genuine Advantage has been a source of angst for many users since Microsoft launched it in 2005, mostly due to its habit of flagging legitimate users as pirates and forcing their machines into reduced functionality mode. In Vista SP1, Microsoft removed this feature, also known as the 'kill switch'.

XP SP3 was originally slated for release in 2006, but Microsoft has delayed it on numerous occasions since launching XP SP2 in August 2004. Last month, Microsoft released XP SP3 Release Candidate 2 to the public through the Download Center.