Sunday, November 25, 2007

Microsoft XP SP3: Betas, Bits, and Pieces

The other day, I posted a reference to a registry hack that allows you to access, download and apply the latest XP SP3 Beta version via Windows Updates.

Get XP SP3 (via a registry hack) and other MS miscellany

I can now say with certainty that this hack (as of right now) to obtain the BETA XP SP3 version does least on a Virtual PC build of XP.

Testing XP SP3

Not willing to risk my own XP "live" system, I loaded up the Internet Explorer Application Compatibility VPC Image in Virtual PC.

This free image is a time-limited build (expires in 12-2007) of XP Pro and works great for most of my software testing purposes at home and work.  Hopefully they will release a new dated version when this one approaches its end-of-life date.

I first ran Windows Update to bring the virtual system to current patching levels.

I confirmed in the Windows Properties that it was XP Pro, SP2. I then downloaded and applied the registry hack. I went back and ran the Windows Updates again, and lo-and-behold...there it was: "Windows XP Service Pack 3 (32-bit x86) Release Candidate 1" being offered.

I downloaded and installed it. Then rebooted. When I checked again Windows Properties showed it had been successfully updated to Service Pack 3 v.3244.

So far it has been running fine in/on the virtual machine XP version....only thing I ran into is that when I rebooted, Windows File Protection came up and notified me that key system files had been replaced and asked if I wanted to restore them. I responded  "no" and that has been all I've seen of that.

So far so stable.  According to the Exo-Blog team, performance on Windows XP SP3 Yields Performance Gains when benchmarked in comparison to XP SP2, though there appears to be a bit of discussion on this.

I really don't recommend anyone try putting this on their own live-and-stable XP system. But it has been an interesting exercise.

What Does XP SP3 Deliver?

After playing more with XP SP3 beta in VPC2007, I did some research to find out just what I was getting.

Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows has a light synopsis of current info on XP SP3:

According to this article it contains :

1.  A roll-up of previously released fixes and patches along with new enhancements.

2.  XP SP3 contains all the bits from XP SP1 and XP SP2 so you won't need to install those first (if for some reason you still haven't).

3.  Contains four (primary) new "features" to XP:

Windows XP Service Pack 3 will not include any major new features, but it will include four minor new features that improve the system's reliability and security. Contrary to reports, Microsoft has been very up-front about these functional additions for quite some time now.

These new features include:

Network Access Protection compatibility. Announced years ago, this feature allows Windows XP machines to interact with the NAP feature in Windows Server 2008. This functionality is built into the RTM version of Windows Vista as well.

Product Key-less install option. As with Windows Vista, new XP with SP3 installs can proceed without entering a product key during Setup.

Kernel Mode Cryptographics Module. A new kernel module that "encapsulates several different cryptographic algorithms," according to Microsoft.

"Black hole" router detection algorithm. XP gains the ability to ignore network routers that incorrectly drop certain kinds of network packets. This, too, is a feature of Windows Vista.

4.  IE7 and Windows Media Player 11 are included and some features are gone, for instance the taskbar-based Address Bar.

PC Magazine also has a good article which expands on the technical details noted above ass well as adds the following interesting information:

You'll also notice (if you look hard enough) new and clearer descriptions of some settings in the Control Panel Security Options applet, changes designed to help users avoid configuring system security incorrectly.


Proceed with Caution And what about compatibility? Devices running Windows Embedded or Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs will not be able to install SP3. Updates to those OS versions will be available later. And if you're running Windows XP Starter Edition, don't install SP3—you won't be able to log on. But Windows XP Media Center machines, of which there are thousands, raise the biggest concern. The SP3 beta stopped these PCs from receiving Media Center updates (this was certainly the case on my own PC) and often prevented connections to Media Center Extender devices, including the Extender for Xbox. These issues should be addressed by the time Microsoft releases SP3 (the company hasn't committed to a date; my guess would be early 2008), but keep checking PC Magazine for news about the problem being resolved. In particular, if you see a fully public beta download of SP3, check for compatibility before giving it a try.

Slipstreaming XP SP3 (Beta)?

I have no doubt that the final version of XP SP3 will be able to be slipstreamed with existing XP setup disks.  However I was curious what I could find out in the meantime.

I did some digging back on the now SP3'ed virtual pc drive and found SP3 files which were unpacked/expanded located under the following directories:

  • C:\Windows\Driver Cache\I386
  • C:\windows\ServicePackFiles\i386
  • C:\SoftwareDistribution\Download\(randomized number)

A copy of "sp3 cab" was also found in three locations.

However, these were not sufficient to allow a successful slipstreaming based on my attempts.

I could have downloaded the full file (windowsxp-kb936929-sp3-x86-enu.exe) had I chosen to locate it on a torrent site.  But since I wouldn't know immediately if that was the latest version of XP SP3 and Microsoft has been working hard to kill these links as they get posted, I have put the plans to make my own slipstream XP SP3 beta version on hold for now until the final "official" release comes out from Redmond.

Suffice it to say...others have done so and appear to have been successful with earlier versions.

HOW TO: create a bootable XP SP3 CD | APC Magazine

In the meantime, I may still poke around some more with the unpacked SP3 files I did manage to uncover....just to see if anything else interesting is in there.

Bonus Find: BBIE

I prefer to do my slipstreaming "manually" using Paul Thurrott's method.  I've used and mentioned other methods before here, but I just like the hands-on-approach Paul uses.

He (and I) have successfully been using Smart-Project's ISOBuster (freeware/$) for a long time to extract the boot-image file from the Microsoft Setup CD's.  It works great and is an awesome product.

I did find an oldie-but-goodie that works pretty well also, and is much, much smaller and targeted just for this purpose: BBIE - Bart's Boot Image Extractor

You might want to give this one a try as well.

In the meantime...I am now getting a bit excited for the XP SP3 final release.

I think I will enjoy adding this one to my systems....


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