Take your hands off that mouse. I know, you're ready to grab XP SP3. But slow down a sec and read my quick tutorial. It could save you some time and make your life with the new Service Pack less harrowing.
Start with Microsoft's "Steps to take before you install Windows XP Service Pack 3," a handy set of instructions to ensure a pleasant experience. It talks about "fast user switching" issues (like making sure everyone's logged off), administrator rights, and error messages you may encounter.
Then take a quick look at the Service Pack's Release Notes. Among other things, you'll discover that if you installed Internet Explorer 7 (or the IE 8 beta) before installing SP3, you won't be able to remove IE--unless you first uninstall SP3. It's not an issue for most users, but it may be for you. If it is, be sure to uninstall IE7 or IE8 before installing the Service Pack. Read "XP SP3 Demands IE7, Microsoft Warns" for more on this.
Downloading vs. Windows Update
Downloading the entire Service Pack from Microsoft's Download Center, all 343MB of it, will take 30 minutes or longer, depending on your DSL or cable modem connection. (Think about the poor schlemiel--or is he a schlimazel?--who's still using a 33K modem...)
SP3 is big because it contains every known XP update in the universe. So unless you want to burn SP3 onto a CD (which you can do with an ISO file from Microsoft's Download Center), the best bet is to do the upgrade from Windows Update.
You can do that by using any current version of IE and heading to Windows Update. Even easier, go to Start, Help and Support, and select "Keep your computer up-to-date with Windows Update." The installer will check to see what you already have on your PC, so the download's sure to be smaller than the full-blown Service Pack--at least it was on my PC.
I used Windows Update, and from start to finish--downloading everything, lots of file backups and copying, and an automatic installation--it took 40 minutes at my cable modem speed of 1.5 megabytes per second.
Windows XP SP3 Is Up and Running
My experience with installing XP SP3 was mostly good. I rebooted and furrowed my brow during the lengthy shutdown; the wait for the system to boot up didn't do much for my system. The first screen that appeared advised me that Microsoft didn't like my Automatic Updates settings. Microsoft wants me to let it run the updates automatically. Tough luck, Bill--I want to decide when to install any updates. (See "Quitting Time Is Best for XP's Automatic Updates.")
Once my system settled down, the Quick Launch tray appeared, and the System tray was fully populated, I started trying applications. KeyTweak, a handy keyboard remapping tool, was the only program that wouldn't run.
SP3 Speeds Up My PC
As I launched and tested applications, I noticed that every program loaded faster. My usual cast of characters--Eudora, Explorer Plus, Maxthon, Ad Muncher, Kaspersky, WinPatrol, and others--all suddenly appeared more quickly on screen, ready to go to work. Office 2003 apps--Word, Excel, and Outlook--were especially quick to load. Sure, I agree, it could be a perception thing (I haven't changed my blood pressure meds), but I don't think so.
Next week: Some folks weren't so lucky.
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Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.