No XP Update Before Its Time?

Timeline for SP3 is up to a year later than most expectations.

Ivory-tower types looking at the Internet often point to the "serendipitous discovery" available when surfing the Web. Now maybe its a stretch to apply such a hoity-toity concept to simple trolling of Microsofts Windows Lifecycle Web pages ( lifecycle), but you can discover some gold, even in that seemingly dry and relatively obscure corner of the Microsoft site.

Microsoft plans to release an SP3 (Service Pack 3) for its Windows XP Professional and Home editions in the latter half of next year. In addition, the company is prepping Windows Server 2003 SP2 for rollout in the latter half of this year.

The date for Server 2003 SP2 jibes with most expectations, despite that Jim Allchin, now co-head of Redmonds Platform Products and Services division, recently said he hadnt "heard anyone ask for the second service pack for Windows Server 2003."

However, the XP SP3 date is as much as a year later than most Microsoft watchers were expecting. The page does list the XP SP3 dates as "preliminary." But given that the company released its last XP service pack—the fondly recalled SP2—back in August 2004, the stated 2007 time frame sure sounds like a long time for customers to wait for a vetted collection of bug fixes and patches to the companys flagship desktop operating system. Or perhaps more in keeping with Microsofts strategy: the flagship of the moment.

Currently, Microsoft officials are keeping mum on the feature list and bug fixes that will be part of the Server 2003 SP2 and the XP SP3 releases.

However, thanks to the folks over at, we have a hint of what kinds of things will likely be part of SP3. Theyve been maintaining careful records of what should be expected in the next XP service pack, and their latest count is 249 hot fixes. Just think of how many more fixes might be tallied by the end of next year. And thanks to a slip of an officials tongue in September, we can expect that the pack will support IE 7.

When asked about the late date for XP SP3, Microsoft officials made it clear that its all hands on deck right now for Vista. The company believes it will get more value—and provide more value to its customers, according to Windows honcho Allchin—by getting Vista out on time rather than by accelerating the XP SP3 schedule.

"In terms of XP, we will do a third service pack, but I feel that given what we have been doing with Windows Update—keeping people up-to-date on security fixes and through Windows Update Services for corporations—that we are doing right by our customers here," Allchin told eWEEK recently.

"We are applying a lot of resources in terms of completing Windows Vista, thats absolutely true, but we also have a completely separate sustaining engineering team working on improving Windows XP," Allchin said. "So I think we have reached a reasonable balance of what were trying to do."

The pressure will be on Microsoft to move the installed base quickly over to Vista. And some of that push can be seen on the pages of the Windows Lifecycle site. Unless it modifies its stance, the company will move a number of key Windows releases off the support list this year.

Microsoft was ready to end support for XP Home Edition at the end of this year, despite that the company is still advertising XP on television. (I take this last point on faith, since I dont own a TV.) After a public outcry, Microsoft quietly extended that date by two years.

Meanwhile, support for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows Millennium Edition are all set to end June 30. "After this date, Microsoft will no longer provide any incident support options or security updates," the Microsoft site warns.

The support clock is ticking on all these products. Only time will tell whether the deadlines spur users to upgrade to Vista or lead them to look outside the Microsoft fold for their next operating system releases.

For more on Microsoft and Mary Jo Foley, check out Microsoft Watch at