With so much attention to the first-ever Service Pack (SP1) for Windows Vista, there has been little fanfare regarding Service Pack 3 for Windows XP. For many people, Windows XP is still the high-water mark for Microsoft operating systems. After the SP2 release in mid-2004, XP has been a pretty secure and reliable OS. But that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t room to improve upon it.
SP3 is currently out as a Release Candidate, meaning that it’s almost ready to be sent to everyone, with just a little more tweaking to be done.
Most of what’s inside SP3 is a rollup of all the updates since SP2. It also includes Internet Explorer 7, and Windows Media Player 11. If you’ve had automatic updates turned on, most of these programs and updates are already on your system. You might be inclined to ask: “If I already have all this, why bother then?”
Here’s your reply: SP3 also adds a few additional features that might make it worth downloading.
Here are a few of the changes:
- First off, as with Vista, retail versions of XP SP3 or versions of XP with SP3 added no longer need the the License Key to install XP.
This addition is only relevant to retail versions of XP with SP3 or older versions of XP with SP3 slipstreamed onto the disk. And it only affects those installing from scratch. This makes reinstalling XP a lot more painless.
- There is also a new security addition that allows hardware makers to write drivers that cannot be corrupted by viruses or other nasties.
- The Control Panel has been tweaked to make the different settings a bit easier to understand.
- There is also a new Network Protection Module. It - put simply - allows administrators to limit certain computers from having access to the Internet if they think those particular computers are not safe enough. This is based on things like how recently the antivirus program was updated, if the firewall is on, or if there are inappropriate ports opened up in the router.
- Also, there is a network fix. It is able to detect Black Hole routers. Those are routers out on the web that drop your data like they have butterfingers. Being able to see these clumsy routers allows XP to redirect your Internet traffic to better-behaved routers.
Vista includes many of these improvements already. That, to some analysts, is an admission of sorts by Microsoft that Vista isn’t the success it had hoped. XP has a lot of life left in it, and while it’s no longer going to be developed after 2009, there’s talk that Microsoft will continue supporting it all the way until 2014.
Now, for the minuses ...
But before you run out to install SP3 on your XP machine, be aware of some not so good issues. SP3 seems to have the biggest impact on Media Center PCs. It blocks Media Center Downloads, and prevents communication with Media Center Extender devices, like the Xbox 360.
Some far less common versions of XP, like client systems, or XP Starter edition, will fail to load, or log you on. Microsoft will likely try to fix many – if not all - of these issues before it makes SP3 available to the general public, but it’s good to be cautious, just in case.
For those with regular versions of XP Home or Professional, these bugs won’t be a problem. SP3 won’t be as big a change as SP2 was, but it does add some Vista features to an OS you already own.