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Microsoft turns new XP service pack over to manufacturing

The software company on Friday released Windows XP SP2 to manufacturers, which means downloads of the operating system update will soon be available to enterprise and consumer users.

After some delay, Microsoft on Friday released to manufacturing Windows XP Service Pack 2, with its much-touted...

Advanced Security Technologies package.

The service pack was delayed on several occasions because Microsoft saw the need to perform more rigorous testing on the desktop software. SP2 is considered a major upgrade to XP, not just because it includes bug fixes and other features, but also because of extensive new security features.

"This [service pack] will need a lot of testing, but it's the right thing to do," said Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm. "The good news is that Microsoft will continue to give product support for XP SP1 for two years, so customers get two years to move from XP SP1 to XP SP2."

Earlier this week, Microsoft acknowledged that Windows XP SP2 was found to break the company's own CRM applications, so it was pulled back for a few days of additional "baking."

Final version due by month's end

Despite the delays, the finished product is still expected to be ready by the end of the month. Individual customers will be able to download it for free as an Automatic Update. Microsoft has been pushing its customers, particularly consumers, to activate the Automatic Update feature in Windows XP.

Microsoft said it will offer versions of SP2 in 25 languages, and it will distribute it to computer manufacturers, customers and consumers not just through the downloads, but also through free CDs. Redmond said it expects 100 million downloads of SP2 through Automatic Update over the next two months.

New security features in XP SP2 include the Windows Security Center, which monitors the status of a new built-in firewall, automatic updates and antivirus software.

Consultants said they believe the software is a solid step forward in terms of the level of security it provides.

"You can put your systems on your front line and not be worried," said David Goebel, the president and CEO at Seattle-based Balder Technology Group Inc.

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