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The service pack includes all security updates, out-of-band releases, and hotfixes released since Windows XP SP2 hit Microsoft’s servers back in August 2004. At the same time though, every service pack Microsoft releases is cumulative; it is possible to install just SP3 on a clean install of XP. In addition, SP3 will bring some Vista features to XP users, including Network Access Protection, “Black Hole” Router Detection, the Microsoft Kernel Cryptographic Module, and the ability to install XP without entering a product key. Windows Internet Explorer 7 must still be downloaded and installed separately. There are also reported speed improvements for the six-year-old operating system.
Considering XP’s current market share and SP3’s release, XP will be found on consumers’ PCs for years to come. On the other hand, with Windows 7 a couple of years out, and the broad release of Vista SP1, Windows XP’s life as market leader is coming to an end. Microsoft plans to stop selling XP to most manufacturers and system builders on June 30, 2008, although the company has extended XP Home’s availability until at least June 2010 for budget laptops.
The last build of XP SP3 released to the public was Release Candidate 2 Refresh. Microsoft was still saying “first half of 2008” for the final build then, and was firm with this timeframe until the actual release today. Microsoft has confirmed that the rest of us will be able to download XP SP3 from Microsoft Update, Windows Update, and the Microsoft Download Center next Tuesday.