Customers can now download a pre-release version of the next service pack for Windows XP.
Service pack 2 for Windows XP introduces a number of security-related changes that could prevent some existing applications from working correctly.
Microsoft has made beta releases of the service pack available to developers through its MSDN programmes, but the first release candidate is available to anyone.
Release candidates typically follow beta releases, and are versions of the software that are feature-complete and considered a possibility for release. The first release candidate is sometimes identical to the final version; at other times several release candidates might be prepared before the software ships.
Microsoft cautions, however, that the “technical preview” is unsupported and not suitable for use in a production environment. The company hopes IT pros will test the software before deploying the final release.
Security-related changes in the service pack that could affect existing applications include enabling the built-in firewall by default, changes to wireless networking, pop-up and spyware blocking in Internet Explorer and attachment quarantines in Outlook Express and Windows Messenger, a rejigged software update tool, and a new memory protection scheme to protect against buffer overflows.
The first release candidate is 273MB, available here. Final release is expected in the second half of the year.