Windows XP Service Pack 3 is finished
Service Pack 3 for Windows XP is finished, but not yet generally available. Chris Keroack, Release Manager for Windows XP Service Pack 3, announced at Microsoft TechNet that the last service pack for Vista's predecessor has been released to manufacturing (RTM). This means SP3 is available to key customers with bulk licences and Microsoft's OEM partners; MSDN and TechNet subscribers should be able to download the service pack directly starting next month. The general public will have access to Windows XP Service Pack 3 starting on 29th April, when it will simultaneously be available as a package from Microsoft's Download Center and via Windows Update. Keroack says that SP3 will be an automatic update for Windows installations used at home starting "in early summer".
Service Pack 3 updates all 32-bit versions of Windows XP from Starter to XP Professional (the x64 edition of XP is based on Server 2003 and requires the Service Packs for that product). The complete package from the Download Center will reportedly be 320 MB. Downloads via the Update function will be around 70 MB according to Microsoft's current plans; this update can be so much smaller because only updates for the specific XP version are downloaded, not the entire package.
Support for Windows XP without any service packs expired long ago and officially SP2 has to already be installed before SP3 can be installed, despite the fact there is no technical reason for this requirement. However Microsoft is inconsistent and SP3 can in practice be installed on XP with only SP1. Strangely, the complete SP3 contains all of the patches you need to update even a fresh base version of XP. Microsoft says that a slipstream installation CD can be created so that the operating system with SP3 can be installed at once without any other service pack.
SP3 not only contains patches and updates, but also a number of add-ons that have been sold separately, such as Background Intelligent Transfer Service (Bits) 2.5, Windows Installer 3.1, Management Console (MMC) 3.0 and Core XML Services 6.0. SP3 does not, however, contain any fundamentally new functions, and no new versions of Internet Explorer or Media Player are included.
SP3 is expected to be the last service pack for XP. However, patches for security problems that Microsoft categorizes as critical will continue to be available for free until at least 2014. At the moment, it is not clear whether this policy will change because XP's availability has been extended for ultra-low-cost PCs.