After dancing around the subject for months, Microsoft finally opened up Wednesday and said it will release the first Service Pack for Windows Vista in the first quarter of 2008 with a wider beta version coming in "a few weeks." The announcement confirms Microsoft comments in a Department of Justice filing in June that the company would have a test version of SP1 out before the end of the year.
"We're feeling good about Windows Vista," said David Zipkin, a Microsoft senior product manager for Windows Client, in an interview. He pointed out that among other metrics, Windows Vista had 12 security issues in its first six months compared with Windows XP's 36 during its first six months. "At the same time, we are getting notes back that some people are having not so great experiences."
Microsoft has seen a number of setbacks with Windows Vista thus far. Earlier this year, Dell decided that it would again sell Windows XP systems due to high customer demand and then announced it would be selling computers pre-installed with Linux. Many businesses, meanwhile, have opted to hold off on installing Vista indefinitely until Microsoft works out compatibility problems and other kinks. Last month, Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell changed an earlier prediction for an 85% to 15% split between sales of Vista and XP in 2008 to a 78% to 22% split.
Performance, compatibility, and reliability have been among the biggest complaints of Windows Vista users. Many of the Windows Update fixes for Vista to date have addressed problems related to these three major trouble areas. Microsoft appears to have listened, focusing most of Vista SP1 on under-the-cover features. As is typical for Windows service packs, many of the patches, fixes, and updates thus far released through Windows Update will be included in SP1, as well as some other fixes and adds. However, Vista SP1 will not include new drivers, as they would weigh down the service pack because they are computer-specific. Those will continue being released by the driver vendor or via Windows Update.
One of the main goals of SP1 will be to improve performance. Among the performance enhancements will be a package released Tuesday via Windows Update that fixes problems related to poor memory management, long calculation times for estimating the time it will take to move or copy files, screen saver memory leaks, and delays returning from hibernation or stand-by mode. Vista SP1 will also include some tweaks to make Internet Explorer 7 speedier.
Other focuses for Vista SP1 will be reliability and administration. Several recent patches issued on Windows Update, including one Tuesday, have addressed reliability concerns. In the administrative arena, BitLocker Drive Encryption will now support encryption of any drive volume, rather than just the Vista drive. Vista SP1 also will make it easier to connect and print to a local printer within Terminal Server sessions, add network diagnostics for file sharing problems, provide more options for Windows' disk defragmenter, and include the a remote access VPN tunneling protocol called the Secure Sockets Tunnel Protocol.
There will be some minor feature upgrades in Vista SP1, the most significant of which will be an ability for users to choose which program they want to handle desktop search by default, rather than making Microsoft's own search capabilities the only default. Google complaints brought on the announcement of those changes earlier this year. Other changes include a new encryption generator, improved security algorithms, support for the ExFAT file format used in new consumer devices, better performance for SD Card data transfer, and common security APIs for security partners.
Users might think of service packs as heavy fixes because of the massive overhaul of the operating system in Windows XP SP2, but Vista SP1 will not include any major user interface changes. That means no new version of Windows Media Center, for example. "This is not a feature delivery vehicle," Zipkin said. "It's not about breaking applications."
The download for Vista SP1 will be smaller than that of XP SP2, weighing in at about 50 Mbytes to XP SP2's 120 Mbytes. Vista SP1 also will be available through Windows Server Update Services, as a standalone one-gigabyte software package (larger because it includes full software components instead of only incrementally changed file portions), and through computer manufacturers once the final version is released.
Zipkin said Microsoft delayed discussion of Vista SP1 this long because it needed to find a balance between giving customers the right amount of time to react to the announcement and Microsoft the right amount of time to formulate and test the updates.
Also on Wednesday, Microsoft announced that Windows XP SP3 will be available in the first half of next year. Microsoft standard practice is to issue a service pack that includes all recent hot fixes and patches as a product reaches the end of its career. The only new feature in XP SP3 will be support for Network Access Protection, a security mechanism included in Windows Server 2008 and in Vista.
Microsoft began testing early pre-beta versions of Vista SP1 and XP SP3 earlier this month with approximately 100 testers, but copies of both quickly began appearing online to the chagrin of Zipkin. Some fixes in the leaks will not appear in the final versions of the updates. "I think it's unfortunate that they were leaked," he said. "At this point in the game, that kind of information can give misdirection and misinformation to our customers."