Microsoft Releases Windows XP SP2 Release Candidate 1

The release candidate of Windows XP SP2 offers several new features not offered in the first beta that shipped in December, including the Windows Security Center accessible from the Windows Control Panel, the Pop-up Blocker on by default and for consumers, the Windows Update V5 Release Candidate 1.

The Security Center, one of several Windows XP RC1 features demonstrated by Microsoft Security Chief Mike Nash during his Webcast Tuesday, monitors data on firewalls, Automatic Update and third-party anti-virus software, Microsoft said.

The Pop-Up Blocker, also new in the release candidate and demonstrated this week, allows customers to prevent pop ups from automatically launching but also gives customers the right to allow select sites to permit pop-up messages.

The Windows Update V5 code has been enhanced in the next Windows XP SP2 beta to improve ease of use and simplify discovery of security bulletins and updates. It will also make it easier to enable automatic update features, Micosoft said in a statement Wednesday evening.

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Microsoft also will deliver on a promise made earlier this week to make the beta available to a broader set of beta testers as part of the newly dubbed Windows XP Service Pack 2 Technical Preview Program. As part of the program, Windows XP SP2 RC1 is scheduled be available for download through a new TechNet portal at as of Friday, Microsoft said.

The news comes a day after Microsoft announced that it had made available its newly renamed Windows Update Services -- formerly known as Software Update Services 2.0 -- into beta testing. While the software giant said the release of the SUS 2.0 code for the Windows server has slipped into the second half of 2004, executives including Nash said Microsoft is on track to ship Windows XP SP2 by the end of the first half.

Windows XP SP2 -- dubbed by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as a service pack on steroids -- is deemed to be a much more significant feature upgrade than typical service packs. Microsoft first announced plans for the security-enhanced version of Windows in October at Microsoft Momentum partner show.