Microsoft has begun making a near-final Release Candidate (RC) test build of Windows XP Service Pack (SP) 3 available to anyone interested in trying out the new build -- the same way that it is doing with Vista SP1.
Microsoft has begun posting XP SP3 RC documentation to its Microsoft Download site, which is open to the general public. And the XP SP3 RC bits are available from various file-download sites on the Web.
Microsoft made a build of XP SP3 available to subscribers to its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and TechNet subscribers on December 3. At that time, company officials declined to say when the company planned to make a public test build of XP SP3 available.
Microsoft officials have said the final XP SP3 bits should be available some time in the first half of 2008. Who knows: If the Windows team follows in the Office 2007 team's "underpromise/overdeliver" footsteps, maybe we'll see the final XP SP3 release a few months early....)
XP SP3 is primarily a collection of fixes and updates that Microsoft has released over the past few years since it rolled out XP SP2 in 2004. XP SP3 also does include a few brand-new features, like black-hole router detection; support for Network Access Protection (NAP) security-quarantining; enhanced security for administrator and service policy entries; inclusion of the Microsoft Kernel Mode Cryptographic Module; and Windows Product Activation modifications.
Microsoft explains the activation changes in XP SP3 this way:
"As in Windows Server 2003 SP2 and Windows Vista, users can now complete operating system installation without providing a product key during a full, integrated installation of Windows XP SP3. The operating system will prompt the user for a product key later as part of Genuine Advantage. As with previous service packs, no product key is requested or required when installing Windows XP SP3 using the update package available through Microsoft Update."
Microsoft is slated to post for public consumption the RC test build of Vista SP1 some time this week.
I've asked Microsoft officials for an update on when the company plans to post the public XP SP3 RC bits on its own site. No word back.
(Thanks to WinBeta for XP SP3 tip.)