I bought my computer pre loaded and found a program called autopatcher from autopatcher.com. (sorry no link)
Dont let the name scare you. It gathers the patches and lets you choose what and when you want to patch with a decent explanation on what it is. It also provides links to the MS articles.
Its free has forums (dont know how good) and is updated regularly.
It doesnt keep calling home either.
Until something better comes along I will keep using it. I dont relly prefer the Msoft experience either.
Sp3 was supposed to be 2nd half 2008 last I heard.