Microsoft hits home stretch for XP Service Pack 2

Microsoft expects to finalize work on Service Pack 2 for Windows XP in the coming days. The much-anticipated security focused update should be available to users shortly after that, a company spokesman said Thursday.

Microsoft had hoped to wrap up work on Service Pack 2 (SP2) this week. The software maker planned to announce release to manufacturing, or RTM, of the code late Wednesday. However, the plans changed to ensure that the software meets quality standards.

"There had been a target date to RTM earlier this week, but when the time came Microsoft decided that there was still work that needed to be done for SP2 to meet the quality standards its customers demand," the spokesman said.

The pushing back of the RTM announcement turned into a public relations snafu for Microsoft. Apparently unaware of the change of plans, Microsoft Australia on Wednesday issued a statement announcing RTM. The statement was later retracted, with company officials saying the announcement was premature.

With release to manufacturing, Microsoft will begin the process of distributing the service pack to users. SP2 will be available through downloads, retail distribution and free CDs, as well as on new PCs. For most users, the download will be between 80M bytes and 100M bytes in size, according to Microsoft.

To facilitate the large download, Microsoft is also updating its Windows Update service. Windows Update Version 5 includes smart downloading technology that will allow users to interrupt the large SP2 download and resume it later, which may be especially helpful for users of dial-up Internet connections.

Although Microsoft has called Windows XP SP2 a service pack, analysts have said that the update really is more comparable to a Windows upgrade. SP2 contains bug fixes and updates, but it also offers new features and makes significant changes to the Windows software in four main areas: network protection, memory protection, e-mail security and browsing security.

Microsoft has warned that Windows XP SP2 could break existing applications because of the changes that are made. Earlier this week the company released an update for Microsoft CRM (Customer Relationship Management) 1.2 because SP2 will prevent the application from running correctly, it said.

A first beta of Windows XP SP2 was released in December, followed by Release Candidate 1 in March and a second release candidate in June. Hundreds of thousands of developers and IT professionals have already tried out the software. Once released, the service pack will represent one of Microsoft's most broadly tested products to date, Microsoft has said.

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