updated 7/12/2004 3:07:40 PM ET 2004-07-12T19:07:40

Microsoft Corp. will release a major update to the Windows XP computer operating system in August that focuses on boosting protection against malicious intrusions.

The company had previously said the free update, called Service Pack 2, would be available sometime this summer but did not offer specific date.

Mike Nash, Microsoft's corporate vice president in charge of security, said Monday the company still couldn't say exactly what day Service Pack 2 will be available, but that they do expect it next month.

The release was once promised as early as June, but has been delayed by last-minute changes -- including making sure new security precautions don't cause other applications to stop working. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

"In the tradeoff between security and convenience, we want to define the right balance there," Nash said.

Microsoft, dogged for years by attacks that take advantage of vulnerabilities in its dominant Windows operating system, is hoping the upgrade will reduce disruptive and costly interruptions.

For example, the new system will automatically turn on Windows Firewall, which aims to guard consumers against unsolicited downloads that could track keystrokes, steal information or otherwise act maliciously. The company's free e-mail program, Outlook Express, also will have stronger default protections against downloads that could be used to spread viruses. In addition, Microsoft is making security changes to its Internet Explorer browser and will offer more detailed information to users when an outside application is trying to interact with the computer.

Microsoft is urging home users to turn on a function that allows Microsoft to automatically download security updates, so they are set to receive Service Pack 2 as soon as it becomes available.

Users also can go to Microsoft's security Web site to get the download once it is available, and Microsoft will send out Service Pack 2 CDs to consumers who request them.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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