Should I Install XP Service Pack 3?

Windows XP Service Pack 3 is to about to be released… should we download it right away? –Ray

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 of 2004) that is mainly the collection of all previous downloads along with some minor enhancements.

Most of the enhancements are designed to assist those that 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%) on their test systems after installing the update (your 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 would want to promote.

The real concern with major updates of this nature is that we don’t know what we don’t know. More important, history has shown that Microsoft doesn’t know what it doesn’t know until it releases a Service Pack. To that end, the safe money will sit on the sidelines for a month or so to let all of the potential issues surface before taking the plunge.

Microsoft planned to make SP3 available on April 29th, 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 across the country.

They plan to release the update once they either have a fix for the RMS issue or an automatic block for systems that are running RMS.

If you keep your systems updated on a regular basis, you probably have most of the fixes that are in SP3 already, so rushing out and installing 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 environment.

For those that 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 the “Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them” option.

This will tell Windows to download updates as they become available and notify you so you can decide when or if 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 does and does not get installed in your system.

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services, Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show, and Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers.

Article Written by