Windows XP service pack 3 Release Candidate available

The release candidate (RC) of Service Pack 3 (sp3) for Windows XP is now available for download – well it has been for a few weeks in fact. This should represent a pretty close similarity to the final “RTM” version, but do remember this is still strictly speaking a beta version so some third-party applications may not work 100%. Don’t install on a critical machine, and ideally not even an important one unless you are sure you are confident enough to roll it back if necessary. If your line of business application won’t work, or your firewall locks up your machine you may wish you hadn’t installed it after all.

So, what’s the point of this service pack?

The most obvious benefit will arise when installing new computers – using slipstreamed media (where the service pack is already integrated to the operating system) this will mean you are pretty secure once the OS is installed. Previously after you had installed XP sp2 you would still have to download and install dozens or even hundreds of updates (via Windows update, or using WSUS in a business environment, or even SMS if you have it). This was not only a laborious process which took ages, but during that whole time your machine was potentially exposed to a variety of known flaws and security holes. It also meant that after doing all this patching your hard drive had loads of space wasted with all the rollback files which you almost certainly did not need.

So, it’s easier to install and exposes your machine to less risk. It also adds some functionality which may be irrelevant to some and more important to others – notably it includes the ability to work with Network Access Protection feature of Windows server 2008.

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