Microsoft has finally given a release date to its much-hyped and much-delayed Service Pack 2 for XP. It expects to finish work on it next month - August - and then it will be released shortly afterwards.

The head of Microsoft's Windows client business, Will Poole, will give a keynore speech in Canada today that outlines the final timetable for SP2.

The delivery will start with the launch of a new version of Windows Update, called Windows Update Version 5, the spokesman said. The new update service includes smart downloading technology that will allow users to interrupt the large SP2 download and resume it later - especially useful for users of dial-up Internet connections.

At the same time, Microsoft will make the update available on a million CDs, made available for free to anyone that asks, according to a news report. Just as well since it is expected to be at least 80MB and as large as 120MB. The latest test version is a monster 264MB.

Although Microsoft has called Windows XP SP2 a service pack, analysts have said that the update really is more comparable to a Windows upgrade. SP2 contains bug fixes and updates, but it also offers new features and makes significant changes to the Windows software in four main areas: network protection, memory protection, e-mail security and browsing security.

A first beta of the Windows XP update was released in December, followed by release candidate 1 in March and a second release candidate in June. Hundreds of thousands of developers and IT professionals have already tried out the software.

Microsoft has warned that Windows XP SP2 could break existing applications because of the changes that are made. As such, it has called on all developers and technology professionals to test the service pack.