First Release Candidate of Service Pack 3 for Windows XP
Having completed the first Release Candidate (RC) of Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista, Microsoft has now released RC1 of Service Pack 3 for Windows XP. Microsoft generally uses the term Release Candidate (RC) for full-featured trial versions which only need to be tested for flaws.
The combined package is about 340MBytes in size and can currently only be downloaded from Microsoft's connect website by registered beta testers. It updates all the 32-Bit versions of XP from Home to Professional. As well as the English language version there are also German and Japanese versions. In addition, the website offers a script which adds a string to the Registry and allows any version of XP to receive the appropriate RC1 update via Windows Update (download size for XP Professional: about 91 MBytes). However, an initial trial installation this way proved unsuccessful.
As usual, SP3 will contain all previously released patches and updates, including those which were part of previous versions. According to Microsoft there are more than 1000 in total. In addition, it provides several add-ons which have been available separately, for example Background Intelligent Transfer Service (Bits) 2.5, Windows Installer 3.1, Management-Console (MMC) 3.0 and Core XML Services 6.0. New features include the integration of Network Access Protection (NAP), a feature which is already familiar from Vista and in a Server 2008 environment, for example, only allows access to the local network if the PC is running Windows at the current patch level.
Unlike Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista, the SP3 package combined with an XP CD enables users to create an installation package which allows installation of both XP and SP3 in one go (Slipstream installation). As in Vista, the installation key no longer appears to be an installation prerequisite in this case.
Microsoft plans to release the final version within the first two quarters of 2008. This final release is planned to be the last Service Pack for Windows XP. However, patches for what Microsoft considers to be critical security issues are planned to be available free of charge until at least 2014.