Microsoft delivers XP SP3 release candidate

XP SP3 will feature more than 1,000 hot fixes and patches

Just days after Microsoft Corp. delivered a release candidate preview for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), it has quietly issued a similar milestone for Windows XP SP3 to about 15,000 testers, according to the company.

The service pack, the last major update to the six-year-old operating system, is slated for release sometime in the first half of 2008. Microsoft has not been more specific than that six-month stretch, and even this week took the time to remind everybody that the half-year window is not a lock. "We are targeting [the first half of] 2008 for the release of XP SP3 RTM [release to manufacturing], though our timing will always be based on customer feedback as a first priority," a company spokesperson said. As with Vista SP1, Microsoft at some point would offer a Windows XP SP3 beta to anybody who wanted it, a spokesperson said. That timetable, however, was just as iffy as the final release's, with availability set only as a later date.

Microsoft has said little about what will be in Windows XP SP3, and in general has been reluctant to even mention the update as it publicizes the progress of Vista SP1 in company blogs and regular communications with the press. Analysts have speculated that Microsoft, which has already made several XP-related concessions, including extending support for the aged OS and pushing the end of retail and OEM sales out five more months, wants to downplay SP3 to make sure it doesn't steal any more thunder from Windows Vista.

According to accounts published last month, XP SP3 will feature more than 1000 hot fixes and patches that have been issued in the past three years, as well as at least four new features, some of which will be ports of Vista tools.

Windows XP debuted in October 2001 and was last updated as SP2 in August 2004.

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