After hemming and hawing for months over its plans, Microsoft last week finally said it will deliver Windows Vista's first service pack in the first quarter of next year. An initial service pack is typically the "all's clear" sign to IT departments that the major kinks have been worked out of a new Windows release. Microsoft, however, seems to be putting less emphasis on these all-in-one fixes as it moves toward more frequent and incremental operating system updates.
Windows Vista Service Pack 1 will be released to more than 10,000 beta testers in the next few weeks. Unlike Windows XP SP2, which was such a bloated upgrade that Microsoft compared it with a full-fledged operating system release, this service pack is smaller in size--50 Mbytes when delivered through Microsoft's Windows Update or Windows Server Update Services. SP1 will bring improvements in security, reliability, performance, and system administration, and it will roll together bug fixes and other updates that have been issued in the seven months since Vista was launched. One thing it doesn't include: major new features. "This is not a feature delivery vehicle," says David Zipkin, a Microsoft senior product manager.
Windows Vista SP1 is due approximately one year from the system's fun-filled launch
In the area of security, SP1 will come with BitLocker Drive Encryption, for encrypting multiple drives on a PC, and better compatibility with third-party security products. Microsoft senior VP Jon DeVaan, in an interview published on Microsoft's Web site, said SP1 will include "a significant number of code changes" to make Vista more secure. He said the changes aren't meant to cover any newfound vulnerabilities but represent ongoing improvements in Microsoft's "coding practices."
In an effort to assuage Google, which complained to the Department of Justice that Microsoft gives preferential treatment to its own search technology in Vista, SP1 also will let users designate their own default search tool.
Businesses have purchased rights to Windows Vista at an "unprecedented rate," with 42 million seats issued through volume licensing, according to Microsoft. However, Microsoft doesn't know just how much of that software actually is in use. "We don't have a great view into that," Zipkin admits. A recent report by Forrester Research finds that IT managers are "pulling back" from their initial Vista deployment plans because of application and hardware incompatibilities and an unconvincing return on investment.
HISTORY COULD REPEAT
If history is a guide, some businesses that have been considering Vista will move ahead once SP1 becomes available. "There's a pattern that SP1, for most Windows releases, has reduced the disruption to manageable levels," says Carl Weddle, director of IT at Quality Trailer Products, which runs Windows XP on its PCs. The manufacturing company will consider moving to Vista when SP1 becomes available--Microsoft's "targeting" the first quarter, but made no promises--but Weddle remains wary of the learning curve involved for users.
Windows XP continues to be the more widely used operating system in business. Microsoft last week announced that a third Windows XP service pack--Windows XP SP3--will be available in the first half of 2008. The only new feature in that update will be support for Network Access Protection, a security mechanism already in Vista that ensures that the operating system is updated and virus-free before allowing network access.
BROKEN APPSWindows Vista SP1 won't be a panacea. The number of applications certified as Vista compatible has tripled, to 2,076, since January, and the number of device drivers supported has jumped about 50% to 2.2 million, but getting applications and devices to work can still be a headache. Gartner analyst Michael Silver says application incompatibilities continue to be the most common complaint he hears. SP1 can't possibly resolve all such compatibility problems.
Spectrum Laboratory Network couldn't get Outlook Web Access to work properly with Vista because of a problem with an ActiveX control. A Microsoft-provided patch didn't fix the glitch. Consequently, the medical testing company is supporting Vista only on a case-by-case basis, and it will continue to use XP on new PCs for the foreseeable future, says CIO David Moore. It's unclear if Windows Vista SP1 will solve Spectrum's application compatibility problems; Moore didn't hear anything last week that leads him to believe it will.Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 share a common code base, and Microsoft plans to "unify the servicing" of the two, DeVaan said. But that will have to wait. Windows Server 2008 has been delayed by a few months, with release to manufacturing now pushed into the first quarter of 2008.
Windows Server 2008 "needs a little more time to bake," program manager Alex Hinrichs was quoted as saying by Microsoft's Windows Server blog. Someone needs to turn up the heat.