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Will You Opt Out of Office 2003 SP3?

Note to Office 2003 users: If you have put off downloading the latest service pack, you've got about a month to opt out of having it downloaded and installed automatically via Microsoft Update (MU).

Office 2003 Service Pack 3 originally began shipping in September to users who downloaded it on a voluntary basis. Unless you say no by the deadline, SP3 will begin installing itself by default on your machine.

"We wanted to use the MU blog as one of many avenues to alert our customers to the fact that we will be distributing SP3 automatically via Microsoft Update approximately 30 days from January 27th," read a recent posting on the MU team blog.

The process is typical of Microsoft product updates -- particularly service packs. SP3 focuses on improving Office 2003's security, the company has said. Microsoft normally only supports the latest service pack for a product, so it is not unusual for Microsoft to push SP3 out to users who have not already downloaded and installed it.

"This announcement gels with the policy we made public in conjunction with the release of SP1 for the 2007 Microsoft Office System (no sooner than 3 months we will give customers 30 days notice that we are going to use Microsoft Update automatic distribution)," the blog post continued.

Ordinarily, having MU automatically download and install an update is not a problem for most users, particularly since SP3 is primarily a security update.

However, SP3 has become controversial recently because it automatically blocks access to many older file formats that some users may need access to later, for instance, in the case of a financial audit.

After an outcry by users and critics in early January, Microsoft posted links to automated tools to return access to those blocked older file formats.

Not all users who have not downloaded SP3 and who have not opted out of receiving the download automatically will receive the service pack in exactly 30 days. It will be phased into use, Microsoft post continued.

"Think of January 27th as the marker and no sooner than 30 days from then is when SP3 will start to become available to customers' systems." If you're marking your calendar, that day would be February 25th.