Microsoft released an updated test version of Windows XP Service Pack 2 this week and says it is on track to deliver the security-focused update in the third quarter of this year.
The long-awaited Release Candidate 2 (RC2) version of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP was made available to beta testers on Monday and should be posted to Microsoft's website soon, a Microsoft spokesperson says.
RC2 could be the final test version of the already delayed service pack, which was originally due in the first half of this year. The updated test version does not bring many obvious changes from RC1 released in March.
"Because we are getting close to what that final code will be, there are very little changes," says Matt Pilla, a senior product manager at Microsoft. Most changes are based on feedback from testers and include improvements in compatibility, usability and reliability, he says.
Pilla would not say if Microsoft has plans for a third release candidate or a refresh of RC2. "I don't want to speculate on that, a lot is based on our development process and the feedback we get. The goal is to deliver the final code this summer, so ideally we'd like to get to release as soon as possible," he says.
Like RC1, the second release candidate of Windows XP SP2 will be available publicly. However, RC2 is still a test version and is primarily meant for IT professionals and software developers so they can do compatibility and regression testing and give Microsoft feedback, Pilla says.
Although Microsoft has deemed Windows XP SP2 a service pack, analysts and users see it more as a new release of Windows. SP2 contains bug fixes and updates, but it also makes significant changes to the Windows software in four main areas: network protection, memory protection, e-mail security, and browsing security.
Microsoft has warned that Windows XP SP2 could break existing applications because of the changes that are made.
A first beta of the Windows XP update was released in December, followed by RC1 in March. Hundreds of thousands of developers and IT professionals have already tried out the software. "It represents one of our most broadly tested products to date," Pilla says.
The Windows XP SP2 RC2 technical preview program should be available online this week.