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Beta of XP update made public

But Microsoft downplays the value of Service Pack 3, arguing in essence, that Windows users should so get Vista instead.

Microsoft on Tuesday said it will make publicly available a beta version of Windows XP Service Pack 3. But, like a car salesman pitching the new Corvette over the old jalopy, Microsoft argued that a switch to Vista is the better move.

"While Windows Vista provides the most advanced security and management capabilities of any Windows operating system, Windows XP SP3 will ensure PCs running Windows XP will have the latest updates, as well as compatibility with the Network Access Protection functionality of Windows Server 2008," Microsoft said in a statement.

Lest anyone misread that as an endorsement, Microsoft goes on to say that "Windows XP SP3 does not bring significant portions of Windows Vista functionality to Windows XP."

The service pack has already been delayed several times as Microsoft has put its focus on getting Vista out the door and then updating that release.

Microsoft issued a release candidate version of XP SP3 in November and expanded its testing earlier this month, promising the public test version would come at some later date.

For anyone who still wants to try the darn thing, Microsoft says, the beta should be up on Microsoft's Web site later Tuesday and ready in final form in the first half of next year.