Vista SP1 to hit Windows Update Tuesday, reports say

Retail copies, sporting new lower prices, also set to debut this week

Microsoft Corp. will release Windows Vista Service Pack 1 next week to a wider audience, according to information posted on Amazon.com and reports from a Web site that correctly predicted SP1's ship date last month.

Amazon.com currently lists Vista SP1 retail copies as becoming available on Wednesday, March 19, while TechARP.com, a Malaysian Web site that nailed the update's release-to-manufacturing (RTM) date several days early, said users would be able to download SP1 starting Tuesday, March 18.

Vista SP1 shipped to duplication and resellers Feb. 4, but since then, it has only been available to previous beta testers, volume-licensing customers and subscribers to IT subscription services. In fact, subscribers to TechNet and the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) got access to SP1 only after raising a ruckus, with some threatening to cancel their subscriptions and others saying they would postpone Vista deployment.

Most Vista users, however, have been unable to obtain the service pack. That was a conscious decision on the part of Microsoft, which said that the delay was caused by a small number of hardware device drivers that won't properly reinstall during the SP1 upgrade. Microsoft said it needed extra time to identify the drivers and set up blocking mechanisms that will prevent users whose PCs have those drivers from receiving SP1.

Microsoft has never identified the balky drivers or the responsible hardware manufacturers.

Retail buyers of the new version of Vista face no such driver problem, Microsoft has said. According to Amazon.com Inc., customers who want packaged retail copies of SP1 can get them beginning Tuesday, March 19.

The online retailer's listings also reflect the new prices Microsoft set for Vista after it cut prices by up to 48% late last month. Price cuts in the U.S., however, were significantly smaller: 15% to 20%. Windows Vista Home Premium Upgrade, for example, lists on Amazon.com for $129.95, the price Microsoft pinned on it Feb. 28, and down from the earlier $159.95; Amazon, however, is selling that upgrade for $94.99.

Meanwhile, the Web site that called Vista SP1's RTM has reported that current Vista users will be able to download and install SP1 starting Tuesday, March 18. TechARP.com named Tuesday as the first possible start date for what it dubbed "End-User Manual Update."

Since early February, Microsoft has said that Vista users would receive SP1 in "mid-March" by either selecting the optional update in Windows Update or downloading a stand-alone installer from Microsoft's Download Center site. Only in April will it start pushing SP1 to all Vista users who have Windows Update's Automatic Updates set to automatically retrieve and install important fixes. (TechARP has named April 18 as that date.)

When asked to confirm the March 18 delivery date for SP1, a Microsoft spokeswoman only repeated the company's earlier statements. "In mid-March, we will release Windows Vista SP1 to Windows Update and the download center on Microsoft.com," she said in an e-mail. "Customers who visit Windows Update can choose to install Service Pack 1. Any system that Windows Update determines has a driver known to not upgrade successfully will not be offered SP1."

It's unclear so far how a February snafu with affect SP1's rollout. Last month, after Microsoft pushed a pair of prerequisite patches to users, some users reported that their machines refused to finish installing one of the fixes, then went into an endless series of reboots. Several days later, Microsoft pulled the update from automatic delivery, said it was working on a solution and promised that it would "make the update available again shortly after we address the issue."

That update was designated No. 937287 and described in a support document with the same number. Microsoft has not re-released it to Windows Update as an automatic download/install.

Asked to explain how users will be able to download and install SP1 this month without the prerequisite, Microsoft's spokespeople said that the endless-reboot problem and the subsequent withdrawal of Update 937287 would not affect SP1's schedule.

"The temporary removal of the prerequisite from automatic updates will not affect the SP1 release schedule -- we are on schedule to release Windows Visa SP1 to Windows Update and the download center in mid-March and to users using Automatic Update in mid-April," different spokeswomen said as recently as last week.

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