Every time I think Microsoft is going to learn a lesson and show some communication skills, it makes another misstep.

Windows XP Service Pack 3 is a collection of previously released security patches and updates, with a handful of new features and absolutely nothing that is noticeable when you sit down to get work done. That’s not trivial! Setting up a new Windows XP computer had turned into an unbelievable ordeal, with as many as 95 updates to install on a new computer fresh out of the box, before anything else could be done. The service pack collects all those into a single short installation; when it’s installed, you have confidence that you’ve got the latest protection against the bad guys, plus perhaps a modest improvement in performance. Great!

Service Pack 3 has been extensively tested. Its release date was kept a secret until it was suddenly made available to consultants and developers on short notice at the end of April – but then it was quickly withdrawn while a last minute problem was fixed, a conflict with “Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management System,” a retail chain management program for small and midsize businesses that nobody uses.

Then, only a few days later, with no adequate warning, bang! There was Service Pack 3 being pushed out in the Microsoft Update system. Bang! There’s OneCare turning yellow, insisting that it be installed right now!

Well, here’s the thing. 99.5% of you will install SP3 painlessly. It will take 15-20 minutes, you’ll restart, and you’ll go back to work.

But if I had gotten a warning of when to expect it, I might have been a bit more ready for phone calls from .5% of you, or perhaps sent out an email blast with some specific instructions. Service packs are a big deal and they do NOT need to be installed on the first day they are available! Here’s Susan Bradley complaining about the same thing a few days ago.

A few people are not having good luck with the installation, and of course they’re screaming bloody murder – and so another round of Microsoft bashing kicks in.

Before you install Windows XP Service Pack 3:

  • Make sure you have free hard drive space! Open My Computer and right-click on the C: drive, then click on Properties. You should see a big chunk of the pie labeled “Unused.”
  • If you have an AMD processor instead of an Intel processor, don’t install SP3 until you read somewhere that the AMD endless-reboot problem has been fixed. You can check your processor by opening Control Panel and clicking on System.
  • If you are technically proficient, look for BIOS updates and video driver updates. If you’re not proficient, go ahead and install SP3 without checking for those updates – the odds are strongly in your favor.

If you have problems after installing Windows XP Service Pack 3:

  • This article has a thorough look at the most likely causes and some resources to recover your system. Jesper Johansson was the first to document the AMD processor problem and appears to be updating this blog entry regularly with more problems and solutions.
  • Microsoft has put together this Knowledge Base article about some of those issues.

[Addendum 05/12/08 2pm] Today I sat down at a PC that was blue screening after SP3, displaying the message: “An attempt was made to execute non-executable memory. (Error code) 0x000000FC.” Using some interesting tricks to gain access to the drive, I was able to fix the problem by following a tip in a response to this forum post: replace windowssystem32driversusbehci.sys and windowssystem32driversusbport.sys with the same files from an SP2 computer. Once I did that, the computer started right up. I don’t know whether there will be any side effects from that.

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