Microsoft Finally Releases XP Service Pack 3

In a Monday post to Microsoft's TechNet forums, Chris Keroack, Windows XP SP3 release manager, said Microsoft will release XP SP3 via Windows Update and the Microsoft Download Center on April 29, and will begin pushing it to users through automatic distribution in early summer.

Windows XP SP3 bundles all the updates Microsoft has released for XP since rolling out the OS in 2001, as well as "a small number of new fixes and additions that should not significantly change the Windows XP experience," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email to ChannelWeb.

XP SP3 was originally slated for release in 2006, but Microsoft delayed it on numerous occasions since launching XP SP2 in August 2004, leading some partners to speculate that Microsoft was dragging its heels on releasing XP SP3 in order to drive more users to Vista.

"I believe they want XP to go away. They know that have to support it with enterprise customers, hence the improvements rolled into SP3," said one Microsoft Gold partner who asked not to be named. "In my opinion, they want to under-publicize anything to do with XP."

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Earlier this month, the CRN Test Center conducted head-to-head tests between XP SP3 Beta (Release Candidate 2) and Vista SP1 that showed XP still holds a measurable performance advantage over Microsoft's next-generation desktop operating system.

XP SP3 includes Network Access Protection (NAP), Microsoft's NAC-like 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.