If you’re keeping Windows patched as you should by using Microsoft Update, you likely have already been prompted to install Service Pack 3 for Windows XP. Like its predecessor (SP2), SP3 is a significant installation (no I didn’t say improvement) that will require a lengthy install and update process. There have been limited reports of crashes, non-boots and blue screens associated with SP3 mainly on HP/AMD systems.

As always, one has to balance the potential upside of installing a service pack against the technical risk that it might do something bad to your system. It’s been easy to make the decision in the past as Microsoft Service Packs typically closed dangerous security holes in the operating system. In this case however, SP3 has nothing (or very little) to do with security and most likely will not help you in any way at all.

So what does it do? Check Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows for a summary of the changes and answers to other SP3 questions. If after reading the article, you decide NOT to install SP3, here’s what you need to do:

  1. If you have automatic updates turned on you will eventually see the little gold shield in your system tray telling you there are new updates available. Double-click the shield to open Windows Update and select “Custom”. Then review the list of updates and un-check Windows Service Pack 3. Now go ahead an install the remaining updates. You will be asked if you want Windows to notify you about the SP3 update in the future. Say No. Windows will accept your answer at least for a while, but will remind you sometime again in the future. Just keep saying No each time.
  2. If you don’t have Automatic Updates turned on, you need to stop reading this article, go to your Control Panel and turn on Automatic Updates right now. Check either of the first two radio buttons ( “download and install automatically”, or”download updates for me but let me choose when to install them”. This assures that you get the weekly critical security patches.