A corporate speak (or market speak) term describing a package of software updates. Service packs contain updates for multiple components of a system, either an operating system, application, application suite or other package. Software developers usually give service packs away for free for downloading from their network, but may also ship a CD-ROM containing the service pack for a nominal fee.
Later versions of a service pack usually contain all of the updates included in previous versions of the same service pack. For example, Windows XP Service Pack 2 contains all of the updates in Windows XP Service Pack 1. This is not always the case, so read the service pack's instructions before attempting to install it.
Microsoft first used the term in 1993 when describing a collection of updates for Windows NT 3.5.1 NT 3.5 had three service packs before Microsoft retired it. Since then, most software vendors use this phrase to describe a collection of updates for their software. One non-software company, Mongoose Publishing, uses the phrase tongue-in-cheek to describe an update to their popular Paranoia XP role playing game: "Paranoia XP Service Pack 1," published in 2004. (ISBN 1-904854-26.5)
Most recently (2002)2, vendors began using service packs as a means to enforce software licensing terms. These service packs would not install on computers with known pirate versions of the software in question. The debate of whether companies have to support non-customers continues to rage on in 2004.