Windows XP SP2 Leaves The Nest

The long-awaited operating system upgrade contains security updates and other protection features intended to better protect computers from hackers, viruses and other security risks, according to Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.

"Service Pack 2 is a significant step in delivering on our goal to help customers make their PCs better isolated and more resilient in the face of increasingly sophisticated attacks," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect, in a statement.

Over the next two months, Microsoft plans to distribute SP2 to PC manufacturers, enterprise customers and consumers through downloads, retail installations and free CDs.

In addition to stronger security settings, SP2 is designed to offer increased manageability and control of Windows and has updated support for wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

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The arrival of SP2 has been quite a drama for Microsoft.

Although Microsoft's sent SP2 to manufacturing Friday it's not yet offering the upgrade to end users, TechWeb reported.

SP2 will post for downloading next week, said Microsoft, but the company is urging users not to flood the Windows Update servers by retrieving the approximately 80-Mbyte file on their own. Instead, the developer is trying to convince users to let the patch come to them.

Thursday, Microsoft amended its Windows XP Web site to include instructions on enabling Windows' Automatic Update feature, which will then download the new version when capacity is available.

"The timing for customers to receive the Service Pack 2 download through Automatic Updates depends on a number of factors," said Microsoft in a statement. "[That includes] the customer's Internet usage, location, language, and the level of Internet demand for Service Pack 2."

For those without big bandwidth, Microsoft will also make SP2 available on CD, free of charge. The company will even pick up the shipping tab.

New machines featuring Windows XP SP2 won't appear until the September-October time frame, said Microsoft, which added that it is working with major manufacturers such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM to get the new edition on systems as soon as possible.

SP2's most discussed changes include a more rigorous approach to security, including stronger default settings and the new Security Center, an end-user console for monitoring bundled and third-party firewall and antivirus defenses.

"We encourage Windows XP users to spend five minutes today to turn on Automatic Updates, thus ensuring they'll receive Service Pack 2 as it becomes available," said Will Poole, who leads Windows client development, in a statement.

-- TechWeb contributed to this story.