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May has come and gone without Microsoft releasing a promised second release-candidate beta version of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2).

Microsoft said earlier this year to expect Release Candidate 2 (RC2) of XP SP2 in May. Repeatedly, during the past two weeks, Microsoft officials have said RC2 would ship “sometime in the next few weeks.”

But as June 15 closes in, Microsoft still isn’t offering any new word on XP SP2’s whereabouts.

Although Microsoft has deemed Windows XP SP2 a service pack, the product is a new version of Windows that will contain a number of features and fixes.

With SP2, Microsoft is turning on its built-in Windows Firewall by default, adding new browser and e-mail safeguards and enhancing XP’s memory-protection features, company officials have said.

When asked on Friday for an update on SP2 RC2’s ship date, a company spokesman said, “We are expecting it [XP SP2 RC2] soon.” He said no further details were available.

Microsoft officials have said they are not sure whether they will issue an RC3 beta. And at least so far, Microsoft has held fast to its claim from this past spring that the final XP SP2 release will ship in late July.

The Windows enthusiast site NeoWin.Net reported at the end of May that Microsoft discovered a last-minute bug in the No Execute (NX) support that will be part of SP2, and consequently decided to delay the service pack. Microsoft would not comment on NeoWin’s report.

Some testers speculated that Microsoft unearthed new application-compatibility problems that caused it to delay the RC2 release.

Since SP2 entered beta testing last year, Microsoft has been cautioning testers to make sure their current applications run on XP SP2. But the Redmond software maker has not specified publicly which applications it expects to break with SP2.

Microsoft says pirated copies won’t get XP SP2. Click here to read more.

During the TechEd 2004 conference in San Diego in late May, however, Microsoft executives offered a few more specifics.

John Gray, lead program manager, and Douglas Hill, program manager—both with the Windows customer experience unit—relayed to TechEd attendees some of Microsoft’s compatibility findings.

The presenters said that of all the SP2 changes, “securing IE [Internet Explorer] by far had the most adverse affect on LOB [line-of-business] application capability.”

Microsoft is predicting the IE changes are “likely to have the widest ranging impact based upon our deployment experience to date,” the presenters said.

SP2 will introduce a number of IE changes, including the addition of a pop-up blocker and more granular MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) handling, to Windows XP.

So, what’s Microsoft doing to help? Gray and Hill discussed the new SP2 feature called “Custom Zones” that will allow individual IE security features to be turned off on a per Web-site basis.

But IE’s not the only possible stumbling block, Gray and Hill admitted. The new SP2 setting that turns on the Microsoft firewall by default could be another.

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