No, Pirates can't use it but yes, you will be able to get it from your favourite computer magazine's cover CD or DVD. Those are the final answers from the Redmond Giant on Service pack 2, which will be widely available from Microsoft's site by the end of August, whether you opt to download, or it downloads automatically through Windows Update. Members of the company's Developer programme already have it and it has been generally Released To Manufacturing, one business term for a patch going gold.

You can also send away for the CD tied to your individual key if you're on dialup and don't like the idea of downloading a quarter of a gigabyte, but it depends on how many hundred percent the delivery will be inflated by this time (the average cost of sending a CD= 42-60pence). In the past it's gone as high as £20. Still it's one way to keep the fines from affecting quarterly profits.

Some changes were standard before this service pack but it aims to bring them all together for 100 million XP users worldwide and make them standard. One thing's for sure- when the patch hits the web the hackers and crackers will go to town to try and make it work with their cracked PC installations - Service Pack 2 is merely the end of round two and the start of round three between Redmond and every hacker with a grudge.

General List of Changes

-Pop-up ads blocked
-Revamped firewall on by default
-Outlook Express, Internet Explorer and Windows Messenger warn about attachments
-Origins of downloaded files logged
-Web graphics in e-mail no longer loaded by default
-Some spyware blocked
-Users regularly reminded about Windows Updates
-Security Center brings together information about anti-virus, updates and firewall
-Protection against buffer over-runs
-Windows Messenger Service turned off by default