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Microsoft Releases Windows XP Service Pack 3

Microsoft today finally released Service Pack 3 for Windows XP users. The update should now be offered via both Windows Update or Automatic Updates. The company was expected to release it last week, but pulled the plug at the last minute due to a compatibility problem with an obscure product they offer.

Many readers have asked me whether this update is really necessary, given that there isn't a whole lot new in Service Pack 3 aside from all of the security and non-security updates Microsoft has ever released for the operating system.

The following are some of the things you should know about installing Service Pack 3 for Windows XP.

Microsoft says it is not adding any significant Windows Vista technology into XP with Service Pack 3. No surprise there, given that Microsoft has said Service Pack 3 will be XP's swan song: The company currently plans to stop issuing new licenses for the operating system this summer. However, some consumers and PC manufacturers are starting to make a big fuss about this. I'm sort of in agreement with them: XP isn't perfect, but I've grown used to it, known it like the back of my hand, and it is very stable. I cannot say any of those things for the machine I have that's powered by Windows Vista (Ultimate).

In addition to all the previously released security updates and hotfixes (some of which users may not have, even if they have been keeping up with security patches), SP3 includes "a small number of enhancements, which do not significantly change customers' experience with the operating system," Microsoft said.

So what gives? Most of the security and non-security additions contained in SP3 are features more likely to be used by businesses, not average consumers. So why install this, when there's a chance it could bork my machine, you ask?

I believe that chance is minimal: XP3 was offered to one of my machines via Automatic Updates today. After a short time, the Automatic Update icon disappeared and I began to wonder what was up, so I decided to reboot. Then it told me there were patches ready to install, and did I want to install them and then reboot? After clicking "yes" and waiting for about 15 minutes, the system rebooted. My machine seems to be no worse for the wear after making room for SP3, but then again your mileage may vary.

I think it's fine for people to wait a few days or weeks to install this service pack. Smart money is on the notion that some users with some class of hardware or software installations will have problems, some of them perhaps irreparable or difficult-to-fix.

However, if you were already planning to rebuild an XP system from scratch anyway, Service Pack 3 would be ideal for that task, as it would streamline the process considerably. Even if you install XP without any prior service packs, installing Service Pack 3 brings your system up to date on all security updates.

To minimize the slim chances that this update might brick your PC, it's probably a good idea to follow these steps that Microsoft recommends before installing SP3.

As the SANS Internet Storm Center notes, people who for whatever reason are still using Internet Explorer 6 will NOT be upgraded to IE7 after installing this service pack. However, if you already have IE7 on your system when you install Service Pack 3, you will not be able to migrate back to IE6.

Finally, Microsoft hasn't so much as fixed the incompatibility problem that prompted it to delay pushing out Service Pack 3 last week. Instead it put filters in place so that customers running the incompatible software installed won't be offered the update.

If your small to mid-sized business is running Microsoft Dynamics RMS, definitely hold off installing this service pack for now.

By Brian Krebs  |  May 6, 2008; 8:35 PM ET
Categories:  New Patches  
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