As Windows users who are plagued by security problems eagerly await Microsoft's oft-delayed Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) release, signs have finally started to indicate that the wait, at long last, is coming to an end. First, Microsoft Australia mistakenly reported that the company had released SP2 to manufacturing, then quickly retracted the announcement. Then, this morning, sources told me that Microsoft Windows Update V5, the next-generation version of Microsoft's software-updating service on which SP2's software-updating features are based, has been completed. Taken together, these two events suggest that we'll see the Web release of XP SP2 within a week.
  
As with earlier service packs, Microsoft will release SP2 in stages. The product will first be available for download to premier customers, then to the general public on the company's Web site (the so-called release to Web--RTW), at which time Microsoft will also begin taking orders for the free CD-ROM-based version of the product. Then, 2 weeks later, SP2 will be available through Automatic Updates and Windows Update. By early September, PC makers will begin shipping new PCs with the software installed.
  
Although XP SP2 offers much-needed security improvements over the currently shipping versions of the OS, you shouldn't take the release lightly. Some of the upgrade's new security features will break existing Web sites, intranet sites, and custom applications. Customers, particularly corporate customers, should evaluate SP2 carefully before deploying it. Nevertheless, my advice is to install SP2 as soon as possible. Regardless of potential incompatibilities, simply installing this release will result in a more secure environment.
  
I've been fine-tuning my final XP SP2 review on the SuperSite for Windows. As soon as the final code is available, I'll update the review again to reflect the final product.