After a few false starts, Microsoft's second service pack for Windows XP was finally released to manufacturers late last week.
Business users are next in line to get the code, before the end of the month, while consumers will have to wait for Microsoft's Automatic Update system to deliver it around a week later.
Users will also be able to sign up at the Microsoft website for a CD of the code, and high street retailers will be supplied with free copies.
The English language version will be the first released, followed by 24 other language versions over the next two months. And, to boost distribution, Microsoft has briefly broken its moratorium on using magazine cover CDs for the launch.
"Service Pack 2 [SP2] is a significant step in delivering on our goal to help customers make their PCs better isolated and more resilient in the face of increasingly sophisticated attacks," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft, in a statement.
"It is the result of sustained investments in innovation and extensive industry collaboration. It also reflects a broad recognition that, as the security environment changes, the industry needs to work together to respond."
Businesses are expected to be cautious on implementing SP2 since it reconfigures XP and closes ports not commonly used to try and reduce opportunities for hackers.
Microsoft estimates that 10 per cent of applications may have problems with the new code and that, of those, 30 per cent would need new code rather than a quick patch. XP SP2 is the first service pack to contain whole new applications rather than patches.
Around 80 per cent of the 80MB of code contained in XP SP2 is aimed at improving system security. Internet Explorer is the main beneficiary, with the addition of the blocking of pop-up ads, windows that are bigger than the computer screen and frameless windows among other new features.
The release is also good news for AMD, as it enables the Enhanced Virus Protection (EVP) features built into the chip maker's 64-bit processors. Combined with the Data Execution Prevention technology found in Windows XP SP2, EVP prevents malicious code from starting buffer overflow attacks and spreading.
"With today's release of Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 2, the millions of users who have purchased AMD Athlon 64 desktop and mobile processors can rest assured they have the industry's most formidable protection against certain computer viruses," said Hector Ruiz, chairman of the board, president and chief executive of AMD, in a statement.
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