XP SP3: Download it while you still can

XP SP3: Download it while you still can

Summary: It might not be a bad idea to download and save the Windows XP Service Pack 3 installer in case you later have a need to move an XP machine to Windows 8. Here's where to find it (and some more thoughts on XP's end-of-life).


We're all familiar with the ongoing tick-tock of the impending end of XP support on April 8. While many of us have been planning updates, many of you have also insisted that you're staying with XP come hell or high water.

Whatever floats your boat.

There is some good news. While Microsoft refuses to issue any more updates for XP after April 8 -- much to my disagreement and to my ZDNet colleague Ed Bott's desire to let the OS die with dignity -- Microsoft will still let you run Windows Update on XP systems after the April 8 date.

That bit of relief comes from the keyboard of another ZDNet colleague, Mary Jo Foley, who writes:

"Microsoft will continue to make all patches and fixes made to Windows XP up until April 8, 2014, available to users via Windows Update. 'There are no current plans to remove existing Windows XP security updates from Windows Update after end of support on April 8, 2014,' a spokesperson confirmed."

So there's that. Now, you and I know that over the next year (or more), we're going to discover some hidden and forgotten Windows XP machines. I wrote about this in "The land of forgotten XP installs: Have you looked everywhere?".

The fact is, none of us will have looked everywhere and we will find some forgotten machines. I thought I'd found all our VMs and critical machines, but I had forgotten one machine that happened to be buried behind a box of cleaning supplies in the garage.

Like many of you, I have a lot of old machines and parts scattered around, used for certain projects and discarded or placed into the limbo we call the garage shelves.

As it turned out, that machine had a solid motherboard and a 10,000 RPM (!) hard drive in it. My wife needed a spare box to use as a scanning workstation and rather than run out and buy a new machine, I scoured the boneyard, finding this beast. But it had XP on it, and since it hadn't been run (or dusted) since before the days of SP3, it wouldn't upgrade until I first upgraded it to SP3.

I've upgraded old XP machines before and while it's a pain, it's not a terrible process (and with a pile of spare Windows 8 licenses I bought for $40 each, it's a lot cheaper than a new machine).

Now, back when I wrote 8 lessons learned from upgrading a dog-slow XP machine to Windows 8, a bunch of you were pretty hard on me for not having all my XP machines already updated to SP3 -- which is needed to go to Windows 8. But the fact is, and like the machine I just dusted off in the garage, we've been using these machines for more than a decade and not all of them have been in continuous service.

As I prepared to run the update process on the soon-to-be-new-again scanning machine, I realized that I wasn't sure how easy it would be, in years to come, to find XP's SP3 in order to upgrade those old machines.

I don't have an intention of making a career of reviving old dogs and turning them into Windows 8 boxes, but my decades of computer experience tells me that there will come a day when doing so is necessary for some critical and unexpected reason.

So I've gone ahead and downloaded a copy of the "professionals and developers" installer for SP3, which is a self-contained downloadable executable. I've backed that up in the same place I've backed up all my other patch files and installers and now, if I someday need it, I have it.

I recommend you do the same. Here's the link on the Microsoft site to download it. It's not big, it won't take you much time, but if you need it in the future, you'll thank me for helping you be prepared.

I'm not saying Microsoft will pull it down. Microsoft still has a security patch online for Windows 98 (yes, I checked out of some degree of twisted curiosity), but I am saying it will be easier if you just happen to have the XP SP3 in your toolbox just in case.

Eh. Do what you want. You know you folks will, anyway. Go ahead and let me know what you think in the TalkBack section below.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Microsoft, Windows, Windows 8


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Very good advice!

    Even with all the talk of armageddon, the end of the internet and thermonuclear war... I think i might just use that XP disk i gave MS a hundred bucks for in the future. Admittantly just to play some old old games, and probably in a vm (i already do it with windows 98) it had actually nit occurred to me that my install disk doesn't have sp3 (to be fair i don't know from here what it has goven how long its been since i used it, but purchased around 03/04, it always needed a lot if updates.

    Actually i may just install a fresh xp vm run all updates and then make several backups of the VM while i'm at it!
  • Good link

    I personally consider all the warnings about keeping and using XP to be either confused or deliberate nonsense - easily the most extensive, database of software vulnerabilities is maintained at the NIST's National Vulnerability Database at that pretty clearly shows that over the long term, the least vulnerable versions of Windows are the older versions (which makes sense if you consider that time heals most vulnerabilities.) And actually this year to date, the version of Windows that's gaining the most exploits is Win8. So....
    • Artifact

      Is the lack of reported vulnerabilities an artifact of the reporting process or is it real. W95/98/ME have not been supported for so long that they may not be tracking vulnerabilities and people may not bother reporting them.
      • The art of non-facts

        When I referred to "older versions," did you really think was I was skipping all the way back to the DOS-based versions, Sherlock?According to the NIST, Win8.x has been the most vulnerable version this year to date, followed in order by Win7, Vista, XP and 2k. Win2k may not be in wide use (although I personally know of more computers running that than Vista), but XP certainly still is, and it dropped behind Win7 last year in number of vulnerabilities being discovered. If Win2k is any guide, you can expect XP to remain less vulnerable than Win7 and likely Win8 for the foreseeable future (and a quick check just now shows all the more recent Windows versions picking up more vulnerabilities, and again with Win8.x with the most, followed again by Win7, but with Vista tied with XP for third place.)

        Facts beat non-facts any day, sorry.
  • XP is worth it

    Thank you. But I don't think it's fair to pick on a very nice OS. And Windows 98SE is good too. Brings back a good nostalgic feeling. And I don't care what other people think. I love those "dinosaurs", as you snobs call them.
    • Win98SE

      I still have a machine running it here at my desk. It is not connected to the Internet, but it has a real sound card that will drive the speakers that came with my Win95B machine, when no newer computer will. I have not heard any computer speakers that can compare to those two, so I use that machine for music CDs when I want more stereo separation than my boombox will give me.
  • "Upgrade" XP to Windows Vista/7/8 - Shudders!

    A tech site is advocating upgrading from XP? Man, clean install, clean install, clean install.
    • I some cases ....YES

      In most cases I would totally agree with "clean install" only, however I have a 10 year old HP Pavilion, which wasn't recommended for Win 7 because of old proprietary devices (built in). The service note I received in October 2012 concerning an upgrade to Win 8, stated that "if 8 is installed as an upgrade on older machines, there may not be as many driver issues arise". Against my better judgment I did an "upgrade" (gamble was just under $40), and the machine now out performs the XP pro that was on it. Can't explain it this time, but seriously the only upgrade I did was to max out the RAM (from 512 meg to 2 gig). Just sayin".....
    • Hmmmm

      Trying to think if I ever upgraded an OS.... Probably not. I wouldn't want the new OS to inherit any issues the old one had. Sure there are rare case when would but they'd be very rare.
  • XPSP3

    Well my Windows XP cost me $230.00. And I have to buy another one to put it on another computer. That adds up. I think Microsoft should put out a SP4 .iso like SP3. Make it have all the updates after SP3. And maybe merge SP3 with it. For the loyal XP users. Not cheap. Just happened to like it better than 7 and 8.
    • Errrr

      Read Microsoft's support policy. If is in extended support, no service packs. XP SP3 came out just prior to the 5 years of full support. Why would MS spend time on a SP on an OS that is dying in 3 weeks? If you were the head of a company that has to support a product would you waste money, time & effort if you know you are killing the product very shortly. Stop dreaming/wishing.
  • Re: XP SP3: Download it while you still can....

    Unless you were unfortunate enough to be running XP 64-bit which to the best of my knowledge never received SP3 there really is no reason to still be running SP2.

    Security issues aside XP running SP2 is well outdated making such things as web browsing near impossible to change of internet protocols. It cannot be overcome either as Internet Explorer 8 will not install on SP2.
    • Yes but Firefox & Chrome install just fine on SP2, and are better browsers.

      Even iTunes will install on SP2. This is likely due to the fact that for 64 bit XP there never was a SP3, so the vendors had to ensure their programs would run on 64 bit XP with SP2.
      • Errr

  • But you may need SP2

    Be careful about just downloading the SP3 package to archive for a future reinstall. If your XP disks are pre-SP2 I'm not sure SP3 will install.

    When in doubt, check it out!
    • I believe SP1 is the minimum

      I believe XP SP1 is the minimum to install XP SP3. I do wish that XP SP2 was the minimum so that XP SP3 would be much smaller.
      • Updating

        You need SP1 but preferably SP2 before installing SP3.
  • Why?

    Unless your a data packrat like myself why bother saving these service packs any more?

    XP is no longer secure enough for your private data so if your installing it on anything, chances are it's an old PC that still has life in it but can't handle windows 7. Hopefully you've blocked this pc from the internet in your router or not connected it to the home network at all.

    In either case, it will run much smoother and a great deal faster if you install no updates at all.

    Note: If you are a packrat like me then you want 4 files for XP.
  • XP'ophyte?

    Maybe I am.
    I've saved every XP Update on a separate HDD (oodles of Gig's) so I'll never need to worry about MicroSoft's EoS.
    • How do you save the individual updates?

      "I've saved every XP Update on a separate HDD"

      Not trying to be snotty -- how do you do that? And is there a fairly easy way to do it "in bulk" rather than having to randomly search and download and "save as" each one individually?

      Sounds like it might make a good article!