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The reason is that sp3 contains all the security upgrades, patches and other updates that are on the windows update site. When you freshly install windows xp there are over 200MB of updates to download to make your system up to date, plus there are a few other minor updates like windows messenger, media player and exploder contained in it. Soon it will be included in the installation process instead of sp2. One good thing about it when they make it part of the installation is that you don't need a key to install the OS but you'll get limited functionality for the 14 days unless you activate it.
I'm suspicious of Microsoft's motivation for this SP3 release. What problems are folks having that would make this necessary?
There is a white paper about it here http://download.microsoft.com/downl...%20Pack%203.pdf
Windows XP SP3 combines all previously released performance, security, and stability updates. It also provides a limited number of new and enhanced functionalities, although it does not significantly change the Windows XP experience or bring functionality from newer versions of Windows to Windows XP. The goals of Windows XP SP3 are to:
Provide a new baseline for customers still deploying Windows XP, to help them avoid the inconvenience of applying individual updates.
Fill gaps in the updates users might have missed by declining individual updates when using Automatic Updates, and to deliver updates not made available through Windows Update.
Windows Vista provides the most advanced security and management capability, but for PCs that cannot be upgraded to Windows Vista right now, Windows XP SP3 ensures these PCs have all available updates and allows these PCs to leverage some new Windows Server 2008 capabilities, such as Network Access Protection (NAP)
I only open my mouth to change feet.....