The last major update to Windows XP - XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) – provides a "measurable boost" to the ageing operating system, according to a performance testing company that's already put the update through its paces.
XP SP3 is due for release during the first half of 2008, and testing firm Devil Mountain Software, which slammed Windows Vista SP1 earlier this month, said users could expect a speed boost, particularly in Microsoft Office applications.
The company ran the OfficeBench suite of performance benchmarks on a laptop equipped with Office 2007. The system - the same unit used in the Vista/Vista SP1 tests - featured a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 1GB of memory. The results reported a 10 percent speed increase under XP SP3 when compared to SP2, the service pack released in 2004.
"Since SP3 was supposed to be mostly a bug-fix/patch consolidation release, the unexpected speed boost comes as a nice bonus," Barth said. "In fact, XP SP3 is shaping up to be a 'must-have' update for the majority of users who are still running Redmond's not-so-latest and greatest desktop OS."
According to the Office performance benchmarks, Windows XP SP3 is also considerably faster than Vista SP1. "None of this bodes well for Vista, which is now more than two times slower than the most current builds of its older sibling," said Barth.
While Microsoft was not available for comment over the weekend about XP's performance, it defended Vista SP1 after Devil Mountain's first round of tests. "We appreciate the excitement to evaluate Windows Vista SP1 as soon as possible. However, the service pack is still in the development phase and will undergo several changes before being released," a spokeswoman said.
Microsoft has at times struggled to wean users from the six-year-old Windows XP and get them to migrate to Vista. During 2007, for example, it made several XP concessions, including adding five years to the support lifespan of the Home edition and extending OEM and retail sales of XP through June 2008, as it recognised that customers wanted to hold on to the older OS.
Recently, Forrester Research said that XP remained Vista's biggest rival, and cited survey data that showed American and European businesses would delay Vista deployment, in part because of application incompatibility issues with the new OS. "That's causing a lot of XP shops to take a wait-and-see approach to Vista," said Forrester analyst Benjamin Gray two weeks ago.