Microsoft preps security-minded Windows update

It's only a release candidate--and another may be needed--but work on Windows XP Service Pack 2 is proceeding.

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By Ina Fried

Microsoft on Monday released what it hopes is a nearly final test version of a security-oriented Windows upgrade.

The company issued Release Candidate 2 of Windows XP Service Pack 2—a mouthful that amounts to a host of improvements designed to make PC users more likely to employ stronger security settings on their machines. Microsoft had been expected to reach the RC2 milestone last month, but apparently ran into some compatibility issues, according to several Windows enthusiast sites.

The delay raised questions about question whether Microsoft will be able to meet its , which calls for the final product to be ready by July. The company has said it does not yet know whether a third release candidate will be needed before finalizing the code, a stage known as "released to manufacturing." The first release candidate version was in March.

"Windows XP SP2 is entering its final testing stages on its way toward a release this summer," a Microsoft representative wrote in an e-mail.

In addition to the usual collection of bug fixes that typify Microsoft's service packs, Service Pack 2 contains a number of new features. Most of the improvements deal with security, such as a Security Center that provides a view of a PC's key protective settings, as well as an improved firewall and other tweaks.

Work on Service Pack 2 has consumed a far greater amount of resources than the software maker originally intended. Company executives have said that work on SP 2 required the company to pull engineers off of Longhorn—the code name for the next major release of Windows that is not expected until 2006.

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