Windows XP service pack out today

Microsoft's first service pack for its Windows XP operating system will be made available today.

Microsoft's first service pack for its Windows XP operating system will be made available today.

The pack gives end users more control over applications that launch by default on PCs as well as more advanced wireless connectivity. It also includes a set of bug fixes, feature upgrades and technical tweaks.

The package introduces changes to the operating system that bring Microsoft up to speed with the proposed antitrust settlement.

Microsoft has built into Windows' Start menu two tools that help it comply with the proposed settlement deal. One is a function that allows users to add and remove their Microsoft middleware applications. A second addition is a menu designed to allow users to "set program access and defaults" to determine which middleware applications open by default.

For example, instead of launching Internet Explorer to view a Web page, a user could set the default to launch the Netscape browser, or launch RealPlayer instead of the Windows Media Player to play back audio or video files.

To make their applications appear in the new menu, third-party vendors must tune them with a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) Microsoft has disclosed under additional requirements in the proposed consent decree.

So far, no third-party vendors have made use of those APIs, Charmaine Gravning, product manager with Microsoft's Windows division, said. Users who have already set a third-party application as a default by some other means, will have a choice to continue using their existing settings, she said.

"This is aimed more at the OEM installation so when they ship a PC they will provide a load of software to choose from," according to Rob Enderle, researcher with Giga Information Group. OEMs are expected to work with vendors to prepare their applications to appear in the default setting menu, he added.

Other minor upgrades to the operating system include some changes to the controversial product-activation feature, created to prevent a single copy of Windows being installed illegally on multiple machines. The feature requires a user to have a unique product key to run the software.Users who attempt this will now be directed to a Microsoft Web site that allows them to purchase a second product key over the Internet.

Microsoft will make these additional product keys between $15 (£9.70) and $30 (£19.30) cheaper than the full cost of the operating system, Gravning said.

Technology that allows users to control their PC with a remote control, known by its code name "Freestyle," will be included with one service pack.

Windows XP Service Pack 1 will also add support for new computers such as the Tablet PC and the Mira desktop computer, officially known as the Windows Powered Smart Display. Mira's monitor and CPU are connected wirelessly, allowing users to access their hard drive and the Internet from the detached monitor. However, these technical changes will only work on specialised PCs in development by some OEMs.

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