Microsoft alerted me Tuesday afternoon that it had finalized Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3), a long-awaited collection of bug fixes and minor functionality improvements. The company says that it has issued Win2K SP3 to its Premier Customers and will release the product to the general public Thursday.

"SP3 is a well-tested collection of updates that focuses on a variety of customer-reported concerns with the Windows 2000 family of operating systems," a Microsoft spokesperson told me. "In many ways, SP3 is a traditional service pack in that it includes enhancements to improve upon Windows 2000's reliability, compatibility, and security.  In addition, Microsoft is fulfilling its commitment to implement the changes required by the consent decree signed with the \[US Department of Justice\] and nine settling states."

Like Windows XP SP1, which will ship in late August, Win2K SP3 includes a new Set Program Access and Defaults component, which lets users configure third-party middleware to replace some of Microsoft's bundled applications. Starting Thursday, Win2K SP3 will be available for public download from Microsoft's Web site. Microsoft will also make SP3 available on CD-ROM.