Analysis: XP Service Pack 3 - The Last Chapter?

But after looking at XP's most recent upgrade, here's a logical conclusion: It's too bad the Fat Lady can't push back her operetta for at least a while longer. While mostly focused on security enhancement, Service Pack 3 serves as another reminder of just how strong the XP platform has become.

To get a look at the new software update from Microsoft in the Test Center's lab, the RTM of Service Pack 3 was applied to XP SP2, running on an older Acer TravelMate notebook, outfitted with Intel dual-core 1.66 GHz processors and 1 GB RAM. Microsoft's service pack installs of late have lost the bloat of service packs of their earlier operating systems: the install literally took about 10 minutes.

Service Pack 3 does not give XP a Vista "look" (although there are downloadable utilities out there for that purpose, like Vista Start Menu and Vista Transformation pack.) What Service Pack 3 does offer are enhancements mainly along the lines of security and compatibility with Windows Server 2008.

Network Access Protection was introduced in Server 2008. It allows granular control of network resources by ensuring connected clients have met pre-defined requirements. It is a solution that speaks directly to the need of ensuring mandated compliances are met when accessing a network. Vista is NAP compatible, and now XP is too with the new service pack.

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SP3 also borrows from one of the nicest features of Vista; it includes Windows Product Activation. You can now install XP, like Vista, without having to provide a product key.

Essentially, this service pack is about locking XP down. There are a slew of previous fixes that patch up exploits discovered in particular with Microsoft office applications.

Out of curiosity, reviewers benchmarked this older Acer laptop that was just service packed -- against Vista SP1 running on a newer HP rp5700 desktop with 2 GB RAM and Intel dual-core 1.88 GHz processors. Testing was performed five times on each, using Primate Labs' Geekbench software. Averaged performance results for Vista were benchmarked at a rating of 2042, for XP SP2 averaged results were 1910.

That means that a PC running Windows Vista SP1, with 100 percent more memory than a PC running XP Service Pack 3, registers a 6.8 percent performance increase. Solution providers must ask themselves this question: Is it worth it?

VARs have been deliberating on the direction they will guide their customers. It seems the consensus among many is to stay the course with XP as long as possible. Service Pack 3, with its security enhancements may lend to the fact that there really is no need to jump onboard with Vista right away.