Carl Brown of ComputerTechs OnSite writes in - "We need Windows XP Service Pack 3 badly. When I install a new XP system, after SP2 there are over 60 updates now. You predicted SP3 would be out sometime in 2006 ? 2006 is almost over."

Carl, most of the "XP SP3 predictions" were based on statements from Microsoft executives and the Windows Service Pack roadmap available on the MSFT website.

Microsoft initially hinted that XP SP3 could be released before Longhorn but very soon, Windows Vista became the top priority and SP3 development was pushed further back.

SP3 was planned as a regular bug fix release with no new features though there were rumours that IE 7 and Windows Media Player 11 could be bundled with XP SP3. Unfortunately, nothing of this sort happened and Microsoft finally pushed XP SP3 to first half of 2008.

Now the next big question - how to keep track of various security patches, updates and hotfixes that have been released by Microsoft since Windows XP SP2 debuted in August 2004 ? Slipstreaming security updates into XP SP2 CD would be a tedious task considering the frequency of Patch Tuesdays.

While you can install Windows XP SP2 from the CD, connect the computer to the internet and turn on Windows Update so that all patches are automatically downloaded and installed, this is certainly not the best approach - imagine when your net connection breaks or you have to build 10 computers or you don't have internet at all ?

Well, here's an easy installer package that will install every single Microsoft update on your XP SP2 computer without you having to connect to the computer. The program is called Autopatcher for XP and maintained by a group of Windows enthusiasts who update this program every month embedding new fixes that Microsoft released in the previous month.

Like other standard Windows installers, Autpatcher also features a slick looking GUI and and can be customized to install as much or as little as you please. While you can download Autopatch from the web, I would recommend getting it on a CD or DVD if you are on a slow connection.

The most remarkable part of Autopatcher is that you don't have to restart your Windows machine after every update. With AutoPatcher, you can install critical patches offline, eliminating the risk of getting infected while using Windows Update.

More resources: Autopatcher FAQ, Autopatcher Help

Update: Windows XP SP3 will be released for sure according to Mary Jo Foley who quotes a Microsoft employee "As we have previously confirmed, we will be releasing another service pack for XP over the course of the (XP) product lifecycle. We are now tentatively targeting the first half of 2008 for release. Right now our priority is Windows Vista - we'll have more information to share about the next service pack for XP after Windows Vista ships."