Microsoft XP SP3 on track to RTM on April 21

Even though I vowed I was getting out of the date-prediction business -- at least when it came to Windows XP Service Pack (SP) 3 -- I'm breaking my promise. I am hearing from reliable sources that Microsoft is planning to announce the release to manufacturing (RTM) of XP SP3 tomorrow, April 21.

Even though I vowed I was getting out of the date-prediction business -- at least when it came to Windows XP Service Pack (SP) 3 -- I'm breaking my promise. I am hearing from reliable sources that Microsoft is planning to announce the release to manufacturing (RTM) of XP SP3 tomorrow, April 21.

That is the date that Neowin and a couple of other sites recently said was the latest ship target for Microsoft's latest catch-all update to XP. According to Microsoft's alleged internal timetable published by NeoWin, Microsoft planned to deliver the final XP SP3 bits to OEMs, volume licensees, Connect testers, and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and TechNet subscribers on April 21. Neowin said Microsoft planned to make SP3 available via Microsoft Update, Windows Update and the Download Center on April 29 and to push it out via Automatic Updates on June 10.

Microsoft, for its part, has been sticking to the same no-comment line for the past few months, stating that XP SP3 would be delivered in the first half of calendar 2008.

XP SP3 "includes all previously released updates for the operating system. This update also includes a small number of new functionalities, which do not significantly change customers’ experience with the operating system," according to Microsoft's white paper, detailing the soon-to-be-delivered SP. (Two of the new components are improvements to "black hole" router detection and support for Network Access Protection, or NAP), policy enforcement.) A side note: Windows XP SP3 is for x86 editions of Windows XP only and doesn't include Internet Explorer 7 (it comes with IE 6, like the original XP did).

Update: Regarding a reader's question about whether XP SP2 users will need  to reinstall IE 7, a Microsoft spokeswoman said:

"IE7 remains on the system if you apply XP SP3 after installing IE7 on XP SP3. This wasn't the case in Beta 2, but is the case now."

I'll be curious to see how much of a big deal Microsoft makes out of XP SP3. For the past year, Microsoft's official line regarding service packs (at least the Vista SP) is they shouldn't be deployment makers/breakers. Microsoft doesn't want to encourage more customers to look at SP3 as a way to delay further upgrades to Vista.

Microsoft officials recently said there would be no more extensions to the company's June 30 XP deadline for PC makers being able to preload XP, instead of Vista, on new machines. (The one new exception is for ultra-low-cost PCs, like the Asus Eee and Intel Classmate, which will continue to come with XP preinstalled through 2010.)

Any Windows shops out there weighing whether to stick with XP (with SP3) or to move to Vista?