Q. Windows XP Service Pack 3 is to about to be released. Should we download it right away? - Ray
A. For those not familiar with a Service Pack (SP), think of it as a collection of updates, patches and enhancements for a software program all rolled into one download.
Service Pack 3 is the long-awaited major update for Windows XP (SP2 was released in August 2004) that is mainly the collection of all previous downloads along with some minor enhancements.
Most of the enhancements are designed to assist those who manage large numbers of computers on business networks. However, some of the security enhancements will be beneficial for all users.
Various entities on the Internet that have tested Service Pack 3 claim that they have seen performance improvements (as much as 10 percent) on their test systems after installing the update - although mileage may vary.
Microsoft is making no claims of improved performance for Windows XP systems, but then again, anything that could cause consumers to stick with XP over Vista is not something Microsoft wants to promote.
The real concern with major updates of this nature is that we don't know what we don't know. More importantly, history has shown Microsoft doesn't know what it doesn't know until they release a Service Pack. To that end, the safe money will sit on the sidelines for a month or so to let potential issues surface before taking the plunge.
Microsoft planned to make SP3 available on April 29, but halted its release when it found a compatibility issue with one of its own fairly obscure software programs called RMS (Retail Management System) - which oddly enough is what we use in our stores.
If you keep your systems updated on a regular basis, you probably have most of the fixes that are in SP3 already, so rushing to install it as soon as it's available isn't that critical.
If your computer is running "mission critical" applications, being cautious about installing any major update to your operating system is always the way to go. If you have more than one Windows XP computer, installing the update on a system that isn't relied upon as heavily is a good way to understand how the update might impact your computers, especially in a business setting.
For those who want to control when Service Pack 3 is installed on their Windows XP systems, a simple change to the way Windows handles updates will do the trick.
To access the Automatic Update configuration interface, right-click on My Computer and then select Properties to open the System Properties window. Next, click on the Automatic Updates tab and select "Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them."
This will tell Windows to download updates as they become available and let you decide if or when you want to install them.
A yellow shield will appear in your Systray (lower right hand corner next to the clock) to notify you that new updates are available for installation, so don't ignore the yellow shield!
When you double-click the yellow shield, a screen will appear with an Express Install or Custom Install option for the updates. Choose the Custom Install update if you want to decide what gets installed in your system.