Every other week or so, FOXNews.com tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.

Q: When is Microsoft going to release SP3 for Windows XP? I love how all support for past products gets thrown on the back burner as soon as Microsoft releases a "bigger and better" operating system. They did it with Windows 98 when Windows 2000 came out, with 2000 when XP came out and now with XP since Windows Vista came out.

To be honest, I'm surprised that they are even supporting XP still and not forcing every consumer in the world into the catastrophe that is Windows Vista more than they already have.

A: I experienced a bit of déjà vu the other day — I saw an article from the tech-news Web site CRN, dated Oct. 11, 2002, which read: "On the first anniversary of Windows XP's release, Microsoft has little to celebrate."

It went on to say that less than 10 percent of Microsoft's installed base had made the switch to Windows XP.

Substitute "Vista" for "XP" and the story could have been written two months ago, not seven years ago. But I digress.

The official answer to your question is "first half of 2008" — which means sometime between now and June 30.

If you're the adventurous type (or you get your jollies being an unpaid beta tester for a multinational corporation), you can get a copy of the current Release Candidate from Microsoft here.

Note that you must first run a small script (available on the same page) that modifies your registry so that Windows Update will recognize your machine as a valid target for "Windows XP Service Pack 3 RC2 Refresh."

You should probably get started now: The download (English version) is a whopping 315.2 megabytes.

What makes the release of SP3 intriguing is Microsoft's stated policy of supporting an operating system for two years past the date of the final Service Pack.

Computer makers are supposed to stop selling machines with XP come June, but Microsoft has already indicated that certain versions, such as XP Home and Starter editions, would be available on ultra-low-cost computers until 2010. It will be interesting to see what happens.

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Mac to the Future

Q: I have a Macintosh G4 and it has the first version of OS X; however, it also has version 9.2 (I guess that would allow 9.x compatible apps to continue to work).

Well, I was playing around and the computer booted up on the 9.2 version and I don't know how to get it to boot back to OS X. (I plan to upgrade to the latest OS X version.)

A: One of my fellow Nerds, Jody Lemoine, explains: "When OS X came out, a compatibility layer was added to enable OS 9 applications to run in 'Classic' environment within OS X. As a copy of OS 9 was actually running in the background, it was essential that OS 9 be installed on the system for it to work.

"Not everything from OS 9 necessarily worked in Classic, but this wasn't a problem as the option to boot directly into OS 9 was present ... at least until later Macs disabled it."

You can get back to OS X by holding the "option" key while you boot — it should give you a choice of operating systems. Choose OS X.

After it boots to OS X, go to Control Panel —> Startup Disk. Check the button for the OS X folder and reboot. That should take care of your problem permanently.

Hello, Audubon Society? I'm Having a Problem With a Nested Windows Update Loop

Q: I am running a Dell laptop with Windows XP with the automatic update function turned on. Some time ago, a downloaded update failed to install properly. Every few days the system tries to install the update when I shut down, but it also fails.

The update is defined as follows: Microsoft Security Bulletin MS07-061 — Critical

The system does not give any reason for the failure and I cannot seem to delete the downloaded update and attempt to download a new, possibly uncorrupted, copy. Any advice would be appreciated.

A: In the 1989 movie "Road House," James Dalton (played by Patrick Swayze) popularized the expression "My way or the highway."

In the same spirit, I'll give you the official Microsoft method to fix this — and an alternative solution.

The Microsoft answer is found in Knowledge Base Article 910339, available here. In a nutshell, it asks you to test for two conditions: (1) An update encounters an error condition and is not installed, or (2) the install is successful but a file is not updated upon restart.

Either way, you need to know the Knowledge Base (KB) number for the failed update. In your case, Microsoft Security Bulletin MS07-061 equates to KB943460.

How do you know if it installed? Go to the Windows Update Web site (Start —> All Programs —> Windows Update) and click on "Review your update history."

On a well-maintained system, you might have to scroll through several pages looking for something with "(KB943460)" in the description.

When you find it, look at the color of the Status icon. A green check mark means it installed successfully; a red X means it did not.

Alternatively, if you are comfortable with command lines and such, try Start —> Run and type "%Windir%KB943460.log" in the dialogue box. (Note: This will fail if you regularly use a disk-cleaner application such as Ccleaner.)

Look for an entry, probably at or near the bottom, that looks like this:

RebootNecessary = 1,WizardInput = 1 , DontReboot = 1, ForceRestart = 0

If it's there, regardless of the zeroes and ones, the install was successful.

Unsuccessful install: Follow the long and detailed instructions here. And note that you can get free (yes, free!) help from Microsoft on update issues such as this one.

Successful install: Microsoft takes the position that it's probably malware preventing a file from being replaced. It suggests you try these steps, in this order:

— (1) Download the free Malicious Software Removal Tool, install it and reboot.

— (2) Run your favorite spyware removal application (Microsoft, of course, recommends its own Windows Defender, which is also free).

— (3) Download the individual patch from http://www.microsoft.com/downloads (put "KB943460" in the search text box), boot to Safe Mode and run the update.

Or, taking the "highway" approach, you can try the freeware program Dial-a-Fix, using the procedure detailed on (fellow Nerd) Scott Ledyard's blog here.

Guy R. Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.

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