Microsoft: Vista service pack coming in '08

Software maker plans first update to Vista for first quarter of next year, while third and final XP service pack is due before June. Vista SP1: Small things come in big packages

After months of silence, Microsoft finally coughed up details Tuesday about its plans for the first update to Windows Vista, saying the service pack will arrive in the first quarter of next year.

In the next few weeks, Microsoft will start private testing of a beta of Service Pack 1 for Vista as well as a third service pack for Windows XP. The company plans initially to release the beta only to 10,000 pre-selected testers, though it may expand that release later. A small group of testers are already working with a "beta preview" version.

As for what's in the Vista update, it's mostly a collection of existing fixes and tweaks aimed at improving stability and reliability of the operating system, which went on sale to consumers in January.

"It is not a delivery vehicle for lots of features," said Shanen Boettcher, a general manager in the Windows unit.

"It is not a delivery vehicle for lots of features."
--Shanen Boettcher, general manager, Microsoft Windows unit

There are a few minor enhancements, most notably the ability to encrypt multiple hard drive partitions using Vista's BitLocker feature.

"Lots of folks gave feedback that 'We have an OS partition and a data partition and we'd like to encrypt both,'" Boettcher said.

Also being added are support for an emerging removable storage file format known as exFAT as well as for EFI (extensible firmware interface), an alternative to the BIOS (basic input output system) that handles the initial start-up of a system.

Vista SP1 will be a large download: Roughly 1GB, based on current test versions. By way of comparison, Windows XP--the whole thing--shipped on a CD, which only holds about three quarters of a gigabyte. Installing the OS upgrade will require 7GB of free hard drive space, though much of that will be returned to the user once the megapatch is applied, Microsoft said.

The key question is what, if any, impact the contents of the update or its timing will have on the plans of large businesses to move to Vista. IDC analyst Al Gillen predicted that it won't have that big of an effect.

"It doesn't fundamentally change the landscape for Windows Vista adoption," Gillen said.

Microsoft has set out ambitious goals for business adoption of Vista, saying it expected businesses to move to Vista in the first year at twice the rate they did with Windows XP.

Gillen said that businesses seem to be moving at generally the same pace as with previous releases.

As for the coming Windows XP update, Microsoft didn't give many details, but did say that it is planned to be the last significant update for the operating system, which debuted in October 2001.

"There's not a lot we have to say there," Boettcher said. "It's really an end-of-life (patch) roll-up for Windows XP."

Microsoft's largest prior discussion of the Vista service pack came in a June court filing, in which the company agreed to make changes to Vista's desktop search feature in response to complaints from Google. In the filing, Microsoft said the changes would come in SP1 and that a beta of the service pack would come this year.

On Tuesday, Mike Burk, a senior product manager at Microsoft, said that the desktop search changes would not be part of the beta, but rather would be added at a later date. On Wednesday, the company said the search changes will indeed come with SP1 beta when it enters testing in the next few weeks.

Aside from that, Microsoft steadfastly refused to comment on the service pack, except to say that there would be one. The company also maintained that service packs are not as important these days given all the updating of the operating system that Microsoft does online.

However, despite pleas from Microsoft that businesses need not wait for a service pack to adopt new releases, Boettcher acknowledged that the first service pack of major software releases remains a psychological milestone for some customers.

"It's not a perception that is going to change overnight," Boettcher said.

Microsoft has been increasingly delivering patches one at a time, via various online updating services, but not all customers want things a patch at a time. "Some folks like to see it all rolled up," Boettcher said. "You are going to see us continue to do that over time."

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