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Is this a pre-packaged process or does SP3 only modify core windows files?

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Oh wow. For a minute I thought you were seriously asking if it would upgrade to the latest version of IE6. Phew. –  Matchu Aug 27 '09 at 20:45
    
I notice, IE 8 is now a "critical" update to windows instead of optional now. –  Troggy Aug 27 '09 at 21:09
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When I upgrade to Windows SP3 does it automatically upgrade me IE6 to the latest version?

in a word: no

you'll have to download the installer for IE8 separately.

however, it is possible to slipstream (integrate) IE8 into a windows xp installation CD, as well as service pack 3, drivers and the latest bugfixes (i.e. with nLite)

Edit:

Windows XP SP3 does include updates to both Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7, and it will update whichever version is installed on the computer.

Source (PDF)

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Well I know you need to install IE8 manually, but what about IE6. Will it automatially upgrade my IE6 to the latest version, or will it just leave it to what it was prior to the SP3 upgrade? Thanks –  cakemott Aug 27 '09 at 20:25
    
updated the answer, sorry for the misunderstanding. –  Molly7244 Aug 27 '09 at 20:42
    
SP3 does not change any major software. So whatever you have will remain unchanged. –  alex Aug 27 '09 at 20:45
    
Ah, I was reading it the same way too. –  hyperslug Aug 27 '09 at 20:46
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