Preview: Windows XP Service Pack 1

Microsoft has released details about its forthcoming service pack for Windows XP, and the free download will apparently show the first signs of the company's antitrust settlement with the Justice Department.

Service Pack 1 for Windows XP, which will be available publicly as a release candidate this summer and completed later this year, won't contain many surprises, according to Microsoft. We can expect a bevy of security updates, many of which will already be available courtesy of Windows Update. Microsoft promises an updated version of the XP instant messenger client, Windows Messenger, with improved security, along with support for Mira, Freestyle and the upcoming Tablet PC.


Service Pack 1 for Windows XP will ship -- as a free download -- later this year.
Service Pack 1 will finally implement Microsoft’s long-awaited .Net framework as well, but as an optional upgrade -- you won't be forced to download the additional 20MB .Net package. Interestingly, although the service pack will include already-released support for USB 2.0 drivers, it will not, as previously expected, support the Bluetooth wireless standard. However, with a Microsoft-manufactured wireless keyboard and wireless mouse expected to be available in the autumn, you can expect Windows XP to support Bluetooth by the end of the year.

Dancing to the DoJ’s tune
By far the biggest changes you'll find in Service Pack 1 revolve around the Microsoft consent decree -- changes the company was ordered to make as part of a proposed settlement with the Justice Department. Microsoft will allow PC manufacturers to 'hide' bundled applications, such as Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer, Windows Messenger, Outlook Express and Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine, and replace them with alternative programs, such as RealPlayer or AOL Instant Messenger. The service pack will include options under the Add/Remove control panel -- in a dialogue box currently dubbed 'Set programs access and defaults' -- that let you control which applications are available. For example, you can choose to restore access to all Microsoft applications or hide those programs so that their icons will not appear on your desktop, program list, Start menu or system tray.

Activate me...tomorrow
In addition to the compliance changes, Service Pack 1 will slightly change XP's controversial product-activation scheme. Although Microsoft says that very few users were forced to reactivate their systems, the service pack will allow a three-day grace period for reactivation if you make major system changes or reinstall your copy of XP. If you're using a pirated copy of XP, forget about any SP 1 improvements. Microsoft says it will block illegitimate copies of XP from downloading both the service pack and future updates from Windows Update.