While Microsoft still will not confirm there will be a third service pack for its Windows XP operating system (OS), a preview version of the software update has been made available on the Web.
An "unofficial" preview pack of Windows XP service pack 3 (SP3) is available at The Hotfix (http://www.thehotfix.net/), a software download site and discussion forum that focuses on patches and software updates.
Ethan Allen, the creator and administrator of The Hotfix, said Wednesday he put together the preview pack from software updates he received from an internal Microsoft source that are expected to be released in SP3.
Some of those updates include Windows log-on improvements and features that fix current problems with connecting Windows XP computers to various networks, according to the SP3 forum on the site, which can be found at http://www.thehotfix.net/sp3.html
Allen, a Microsoft beta tester who previously worked for the Redmond, Washington-based software company on a contract basis, updates the list of technologies for Windows XP SP3 daily based on information found on Microsoft's Web site.
"Microsoft makes it freely available about what's going to be in the next hot fixes, but they hide it," Allen said. He said he found information on updates that will be made available in Windows XP SP3 using keywords contained in articles on Microsoft's Web site. This is the same way he discovered the technologies that were released in Windows XP SP2. He posted those updates on a Web site before that service pack was released in August 2004.
Allen now works in software assurance for a high-tech company based in Bellevue, Washington, that he declined to name. He said Microsoft has not contacted him about The Hotfix, which he launched in July.
Allen's site also has published a transcript of a chat discussion in which Microsoft engineers fielded questions from beta testers about whether Internet Explorer 7 will be included in SP3. According to the transcript, Anurag Jain, a program manager in the Internet Explorer team, said the service pack will not include it but will "support" it. Instead, Internet Explorer 6 will be a part of Windows XP SP3.
Microsoft provides service packs to add what the company and its users think are important updates to the current releases of its software. For example, Windows XP SP2, which was a significant update to Windows XP, included software intended to make the OS more secure.
Reports published last week quoted Microsoft France Technical and Security Director Bernard Ourghanlian as saying there will be a third service pack for Windows XP available after the next version of the client OS, Windows Vista, ships at the end of 2006.
A Microsoft spokesman Wednesday insisted that Microsoft still has not decided whether or not to release SP3 for Windows XP.
"We have not confirmed plans for a Service Pack 3 for Windows XP yet," said Michael Burk, product manager for Windows Vista. "At this point, the Windows servicing team is reviewing the feedback on Windows XP SP2 and is still evaluating timing and alternatives for the next Windows XP servicing release."