Ever since Microsoft released Vista some 10 months ago, most of the focus has been on when the new OS would receive its first service pack and whether a service pack was even necessary to ensure reliable operation and smooth performance. The fact that Windows XP was also slated to receive a new service pack (SP3) of its own is news that has generally been downplayed compared to Vista discussions. XP SP3, it was generally assumed, would be a collection of bug fixes and patches, but was unlikely to contain any major updates for the now-venerable operating system.
Now it seems that such assumptions were somewhat off the mark. Neosmart reports that Microsoft has made beta builds of XP SP3 available to certain beta test groups, including tier-one Windows Server 2008 and Vista SP1 testers. Although XP SP3 does contain a number of bug fixes and patches released since SP2—1,073, to be exact—it also incorporates several Vista features that are being back-ported into the XP operating system. Specifically, these features include:
Network Access Protection (NAP): This is a policy enforcement platform meant for enterprise use that inspects systems attempting to access a
corporate network to ensure they meet whatever security criteria the corporation has in place. If systems fail to meet the necessary criteria, they can
be updated or blocked from using the network, depending on the nature of the flaw. New Product Activation module: Just as in Vista, users will be able to install XP without entering a product key at installation."Black Hole" Router Detection: A black hole router is a router that drops packets without returning the specified Internet Control Message Protocol
(ICMP) response. This feature aids in detecting and protecting the end user from such a problem. Previously, according to Microsoft documents, reliable
detection of a black hole router involved use of an appropriately configured "ping" command, followed by further manual commands for working around the
problem.Microsoft Kernel Cryptographic Module: This feature incorporates cryptographic algorithms in a single module other kernel mode drivers are
capable of hooking into and accessing.
There's no word on when, exactly, we can expect SP3 to become available, or if other Vista features will make an appearance in the older OS. By back-porting significant features back into XP, Microsoft appears to be tacitly acknowledging that even as it promotes Vista as a mature product, a number of users and OEMs simply aren't ready or willing to make the switch just yet.