Microsoft came closer to its goal of releasing the third major update to its Windows XP operating system by next year, releasing a test version of the software to 15,000 testers.

The Windows XP Service pack 3 was released late last week, according to testers.

The third update had been expected as early as 2006 but it was delayed as the Microsoft concentrated on the completion of Windows Vista.

Both Windows XP SP3 and the first Windows Vista update are set to be released in the first half of 2008.