When Windows Update Says "No Way" to XP SP3, We Say "Yes, You Can!"


A Choice of Routes to Service Pack 3

Tuesday, Microsoft finally released Windows XP Service Pack 3 to the general public in one of three forms:

    • via Windows Update
    • via a self-extracting .exe archive
    • via an ISO image to burn to a CD

It's a good thing there's more than one way to get Service Pack 3 - and it's also a good thing to have more than one base of operations, as you will soon see.

When Windows Update Strikes Out

What is it about Windows Update for Windows XP? Some of my systems can calmly swallow every update Microsoft rolls down the pike, while others display that dreaded "the following updates were not installed" message:

With a history of failures like this, it's no wonder that Windows Update wouldn't install SP3 on my system. If you're seeing similar problems, you probably won't be able to use Windows Update to install SP3 either.

It's tempting to take time to fix whatever ails Windows Update, either by looking up the error code for each failed update or by installing and running a utility like Dial-a-Fix . Don't bother. Remember, SP3 contains hundreds of updates, including most (if not all) of the ones that wouldn't install through Windows Update. Instead of trying to fix Windows Update, try one of the other methods to get your hands on SP3.

Downloaded Executable: Third Time's the Charm

After striking out with Windows Update, I decided to download the self-extracting .exe file. 316MB (and 90 minutes, thanks to a slow shared office network connection) later, I started the SP3 installer, only to see a "File Corrupt" error message partway through the extraction process.

This error can indicate that the download is, in fact, corrupt, or it can sometimes point to a problem with corrupt memory. I downloaded the executable again to a different computer on my office network while I swapped memory modules in my target computer. No dice, twice: I had the same "file corrupt" error message with different memory and a different download. I decided it was time to look elsewhere for a place to download the executable.

I marched home to my 'blink and you'll miss it' 10Mbps cable connection (about 10x faster than the office setup), where. I downloaded both the .exe archive and the .ISO image to an external USB hard disk. I brought them back to the office, installed the .exe without any fuss, and a short time later, I was enjoying the fruits of my labors:

What about Windows Update? Windows Update came back to life after I installed SP3, and I was able to install several updates that had been stuck in limbo, as well as some newly-downloaded updates.

So, What Went Wrong? Who Cares!

I suspect that my office network's Internet connection might be to blame: it was actually down for a couple of hours yesterday, and it might have enough problems to cause a large download like this to get a few bad bytes. I'm not too worried about it for now (I've had no problems downloading other, smaller updates). In any event, it's useful to know what to do when Windows Update doesn't deliver the goods.

Just a reminder: Windows Update's update history page displays only updates (or attempted updates) it performs. Don't panic if you see a failed attempt to install Service Pack 3 on the list: even if you install SP3 another way, the failed attempt stays in the history listing until you clear it. Just remember, when Windows Update says "No" to SP3, you're not stuck.

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