Microsoft to Begin Pushing XP SP3 to Users

Microsoft will begin pushing Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) out via Automatic Updates to users who have not already downloaded it as early as Thursday, the company confirmed.

However, because not every company will want to have SP3 automatically installed on its PCs, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) also has a blocking kit available for download, as it has done with past service packs.

Additionally, due to the large numbers of XP users, Microsoft will not push SP3 out to all users at once.

“This is a throttled release, to allow Microsoft to carefully monitor the release to ensure that all customers have a good experience,” a company spokesperson told in an e-mail. The spokesperson would not confirm that SP3 would start being pushed out by Automatic Updates this week, however.

The company began phasing in voluntary manual downloads of what is likely to be the last service pack for seven-year-old Windows XP this spring. After some glitches – particularly with HP PCs running on AMD processors – the company briefly suspended, then restarted, downloads of SP3.

If automatic downloads do indeed begin this week, they come on the heels of last week’s announcement that Microsoft has officially discontinued sales of XP through most outlets.

There are plenty of exceptions though, so users who truly want XP will be able to get it for some time to come.

System builders, for example, will be able to sell new systems with XP pre-installed until January 31, 2009. Also, retailers will be able to sell the inventory they have on hand. In addition, users can purchase PCs with Vista from some OEMs and, for a fee, have them downgraded to XP.

In the meantime, however, not everyone wants to have SP3 automatically installed on their PCs. “There are smaller companies that rely on Automatic Updates [and] some of them will probably want to block it and install it at their own pace,” Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, told

For one thing, many companies have custom applications that may not be compatible with SP3. Administrators may want to test those applications before installing the service pack, he said.

However, there’s not a lot new in SP3 – most service packs, in fact, contain bug fixes and security patches but few, if any, new features. That’s only partially the case with SP3. The main reason why many larger companies will want XP SP3 is to get Network Access Protection (NAP), according to Helm. NAP is a security mechanism for device quarantining and remediation that is already built into Windows Server 2008 and Vista.

“I think the most important thing [about XP SP3] for large companies is it provides a lot of support for Windows Server 2008, especially NAP,” Helm added.

For those who don’t want XP SP3 to be automatically installed on their PCs, the company has posted the Windows Service Pack Blocker Kit on the Microsoft Download Center.

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