This morning, Microsoft made the final release of the long-awaited Service Pack 3 (SP3) update to Windows XP available for direct download from the Web. XP SP3 will be the last XP service pack, Microsoft says, and it aggregates all previously released patches and fixes. The direct download version is 316 MB in size.

Windows XP SP3 follows the previous XP service pack, SP2, by some three and a half years. The delay, Microsoft says, is due largely to problems the software giant had getting XP's successor, Windows Vista, out the door.

Those using XP shouldn't expect much from SP3, however: The service pack includes no major new features and doesn't change the XP usage experience at all. Indeed, SP3 isn't really aimed at consumers at all, but is rather designed for the needs of businesses still deploying and managing XP in large environments. In my experience, there are no meaningful performance benefits to SP3 either.

Windows XP SP3 can be installed on 32-bit versions of Windows XP Home, Media Center, Professional, and Tablet PC editions that have already been upgraded to SP2. Users interested in a smaller download or a more automated experience should wait until June 10, when Microsoft will make SP3 available via Windows Update and Automatic Updates.

Additionally, my Windows XP Service Pack 3 Slipstreaming Guide will be made available on the SuperSite for Windows this week. This guide will explain how to create a Windows XP Setup CD that integrates XP with SP3.

Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) direct download link