Windows XP is maturing. First came Service Pack 1 (SP1), then SP2 and now a few years later it’s time for SP3. Since Vista hit the shelves almost a year ago, XP has been rolling along in the background, quietly taking care of business on the majority of desktops in use today. With the release of Service Pack 3 (SP3) just around the corner in the first part of 2008 it will undoubtedly draw some renewed attention to XP. In advance of the final version of SP3, Microsoft has made available Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of XP Service Pack 3 (SP3). A Release Candidate is not intended for production or mission critical systems, but for testing purposes it is fine. As always, make sure you have full tested backups of all your systems and data before you do any experimenting.
I know from experience and reader feedback, expectations are always high when a new service pack is close to being released. Experience has also taught me that those expectations are seldom met. There is nothing spectacular about SP3. You aren’t going to load it up and be instantly blown away by new features or performance. That’s not what a service pack is intended to accomplish. As Microsoft states in the whitepaper PDF file at Windows XP Service Pack 3 Overview:
Windows® XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) includes all previously released updates for the operating system, in addition to a small number of new functionalities that will not significantly change customers’ experience with the operating system.
Each time a new service pack is released, the subject of slipstreaming the new service pack into previous versions is raised in an effort to cut down on the number of required updates on clean installations and reinstalls. This is especially true with SP3 for two reasons; the length of time since XP2 was released and the large number of interim updates between SP2 and SP3. Anybody that has reinstalled XP w/SP2 cringes at the number of updates that are required to bring it up to date.
With that thought in mind, it’s once again time to go through the steps to successfully integrate or slipstream Service Pack 3 into previous releases of Windows XP. If you already have a functioning, reasonably clean system install that isn’t causing any problems you really don’t have any need to bother with a slipstreamed CD. Under that scenario it’s much easier [and quicker] to simply have SP3 installed via Windows Update. For those that are constantly tinkering with the system and reinstalling from older XP releases, it’s an essential item to keep you sane.