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FAQ: What you should know before installing Windows XP SP3

Microsoft finally gives everyone a shot at XP's final service pack

May 7, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - After a week-long delay to take care of a last-minute compatibility bug, Microsoft yesterday gave the green light to Windows XP Service Pack 3.

SP3, undoubtedly the aged operating system's last service pack, was released Tuesday to Windows Update as an optional upgrade, and stand-alone executables were added to Microsoft's download servers.

To paraphrase -- and, at the same time, contradict -- Winston Churchill, although this isn't the end of Windows XP, it's certainly the beginning of the end. But we come not to bury XP, but to praise it -- and to answer a few last-minute questions now that it's really, truly, yes-indeed available to anyone who wants it.

Can I really get Windows XP SP3 now? Yes. You can grab it from Windows Update (WU) or download a stand-alone installer from Microsoft's Web site.

Will Windows Update automatically download and install XP SP3? Not yet. Instead, you must choose "Windows Update" from the Start menu, then click on either "Express" or "Custom." In both cases, WU will offer XP SP3. In fact, it will offer SP3 before any other update or patch.

To start the 30-minute process, click the "Install Updates" button.

Microsoft has said it will flip the switch for automatic download and install -- the setting that most users have selected in WU -- sometime this summer. Others have speculated that the push date has already been slated for June 10.

Where's the stand-alone installer? As is its policy, Microsoft has also posted a much larger installation file that doesn't require WU. The XP SP3 stand-alone installer, which weighs in a 316MB, can be found here.

Anything I should know before starting the update? You could just jump into the fray, but Microsoft has a whole list of steps it recommends prior to installing XP SP3. The list talks about prerequisites and hard disk requirements, mentions (but doesn't recommend) disabling antivirus protection, and suggests several other moves, including making a full backup before you begin.

That document is also a good resource, or at least a good starting point, for troubleshooting a balky XP SP3 update; it includes information on a host of potential error messages.

You also need to uninstall any now-obsolete release candidate or beta of SP3 that you've stuck on the system. We covered that in an earlier FAQ under the heading "Do I need to prep my PC for the final version of SP3 if I've installed one of the early versions?"

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Anything else? Yes. Microsoft has warned users of Internet Explorer 7 that they won't be able to easily revert to IE6 once they've upgraded to XP SP3. And in other browser news, the company has also told users who have installed IE8 Beta 1 that they won't be seeing SP3 on Windows Update.



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