Windows XP Service Pack 2 is coming. It will be huge. Now is the time to start learning about it.

Microsoft will spend $300 million marketing Service Pack 2. The marketing campaign will be designed to educate and alert users to the security necessities of installing the update. You’ll be able to download it from Windows Update, but you’ll also be able to pick it up free from retail stores such as Best Buy and CompUSA, as well as getting it directly from Microsoft for a small shipping and handling fee.

Every new PC shipped after SP2 will have it preinstalled, and Microsoft is working hard to make retailers upgrade in-store computers that originally shipped without SP2. It’s likely that Microsoft will immediately replace retail boxed copies of XP with new versions that include SP2.

There’s no firm date for the release of the service pack yet, but signs point to the end of the summer.

Service Pack 2 concentrates on four areas: helping protect PCs from network-based attacks, enabling more secure email and instant messaging, enabling more secure Internet experiences, and providing system-level protection for the base OS. In addition, SP2 will include several new and updated technologies, such as the Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS) 2.0 client, Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 Series, Microsoft DirectX 9.0b, Bluetooth Client 2.0, and a new SmartKey wireless-network setup wizard.

You’ll start to see references to it in the mainstream press soon, and by the time it arrives you’ll be inundated with ads and articles. It will be described as an essential upgrade for safe computing – and for a change, it looks like the hype will be correct. Windows XP with Service Pack 2 promises to be the most secure operating system ever developed. That doesn’t mean that no one will ever find a way to exploit a flaw – the battle against hackers will not end in our lifetime. But this will set the bar much, much higher.

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