Clues that Microsoft is ready to announce the final version of Windows XP Service Pack (SP) 3 are starting to mount.
Microsoft officials have maintained that the company is planning to deliver the final SP3 bits some time in the first half of 2008.
But on February 19, Microsoft posted the release notes (version 1.0) for XP SP3, a sign that the final service pack might be ready to roll out earlier than many expected.
At the end of the day Tuesday, I asked Microsoft whether the company was ready to make available the final SP3 bits. A spokeswoman for the Windows client team said "We'll have an answer for you very shortly."
I downloaded the release notes. They refer to an unspecified "Release Candidate." So maybe Microsoft is simply poised to issue yet another test build of XP SP3. (The most recent one the company released, in early February, was designated "XP SP3 Release Candidate (RC) 2.")
Update: It's just a broadening of availability of the latest Release Candidate, folks. A spokesperson just sent the following update:
"Windows XP SP3 RC2 will be made publicly available today at 5:00 p.m. via Microsoft Download Center. We’ r e broaden ing the availability of the release candidate in order to receive further user feedback prior to the release of Windows XP SP3. "
The release notes simply itemize what's new in SP3 that wasn't part of XP SP2. The short list: Network Access Protection (NAP) support; improvements in black-hole router detection; security credential changes that allow for "forward compatibility" with Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008; and other sundry security updates.
Once Microsoft shares more information about what's coming on the XP SP3 front, I will update this post.
Updated above: Microsoft is making the previously private test build of XP SP3 (which went to 15,000 select testers in early February, publicly available as of February 19.)