Windows XP SP3 still AWOL, but resides on Microsoft servers

XP SP3 available on pirate sites despite being officially delayed because of data corruption issues

While Microsoft makes users wait for the official version of Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), the update has been widely distributed on pirate sites and can still be found and downloaded from Microsoft's servers.

On Tuesday, in a low-key announcement on a support newsgroup, Microsoft said it would delay the release of XP SP3 because of data corruption issues between the updated operating system and its retail point-of-sale software. The week before, when it had touted the service pack's completion -- in its nomenclature, SP3 had reached the "release to manufacturing," or RTM stage -- Microsoft had said it would offer the update via Windows Update on April 29.

Days before that, however, copies of the RTM build had leaked to the Internet and were easily available through BitTorrent search sites such as The Pirate Bay. Currently, there are several language-specific versions of Windows XP SP3 RTM showing in search results on that site. Some have been tagged as Build 5512, which Microsoft manager Chris Keroack confirmed earlier this week is the official designation for XP SP3 RTM.

The appearance of XP SP3 on BitTorrent wasn't lost on Windows users. Shortly after Microsoft reversed course last week and posted the service pack for downloading by paying subscribers to its TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) services, users reported finding SP3 RTM on pirate software sites.

Something similar happened in February, when Microsoft initially refused to provide TechNet and MSDN subscribers with Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1); the update was available before Microsoft changed its mind and posted SP1, causing some IT administrators to admit that they had downloaded the update illegally so that they could test it before deploying it in their organizations.

Some users have also sidestepped Microsoft's postponement of XP SP3's release by rooting out and downloading standalone installers they've found on Microsoft's servers.

Wednesday, ZDNet blogger Adrian Kingsley-Hughes posted a collection of links to 12 XP SP3 installers, including those for the Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish versions of the operating system. Those links led to executables on Microsoft servers.

Earlier in the week, Microsoft had cautioned against downloading such files. "It's possible that some third party websites are linking to the Windows XP SP3 software that we have published for MSDN and TechNet subscribers," a company spokeswoman said in an e-mail Wednesday. "Since we cannot confirm the source of every link, our recommendation is that customers wait until we've published Windows XP SP3 to Windows Update and the Download Center."

Microsoft, however, has not pulled the standalone installers from its servers; as of today, the links were still live.

Computerworld downloaded the English-language installer -- a 316MB file -- used it to install XP SP3, and confirmed that the result is Build 5512 of Service Pack 3.

In response to a query today, a Microsoft spokeswoman said the company had no new information to share about when it would add XP SP3 to Windows Update and post an official standalone installer to its download site.

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Gregg Keizer

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