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Windows security upgrade near

REDMOND, Wash. -- Almost since the day Microsoft Corp. released its Windows XP computer operating system nearly three years ago, it has been a favorite target of hackers. Now, more than two years after promising to do something about it, Microsoft is about to release the biggest update ever for Windows. The free upgrade aims to make users safer by sealing entries to viruses, better protecting personal data, and fending off spyware.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said the upgrade, dubbed Service Pack 2, revises less than 5 percent of the millions of lines of code that make up Windows XP -- but adds more value than any other update the company has ever done. Some of the nearly $1 billion that's gone into Service Pack 2 also will be used on future versions of Windows. But Gates said it was absolutely necessary to give away the security advances now because of the barrage of attacks plaguing Windows-based computers.

''If we weren't viewing this as such a key priority, then we wouldn't be giving it away as a free thing," Gates said.

The long-awaited update is due to be completed ''in the coming days," Microsoft said.

Gates said he expects Service Pack 2 will lead to fewer incremental security fixes.

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