Beta testers got Vista SP1 RTM early

But MSDN, TechNet subscribers won't get it until early March, are furious at 'slap in the face'

Microsoft confirmed Thursday that its invite-only group of about 15,000 testers has had the final version of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) for the past two weeks.

Other Vista users, however, will have to wait until March to obtain a legal copy of the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version of Vista SP1, the company reiterated.

According to a Microsoft spokeswoman, the build designated Vista SP1 RC Refresh 2, which was seeded to testers on Jan. 24, is identical to the code that company developers shipped out the door on Monday as RTM.

"In final stages of a product, Microsoft likes to get as much validation as possible before releasing," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail. "The release candidate ended up being a high enough quality to be approved to release to manufacturing."

The shift in nomenclature, but not bits, is common. Eventually, a vendor must approve a build as "gold code," at which point that edition becomes the shipping version. Last November, for example, Apple Inc. issued a test build of Mac OS X 10.5.1 to developers one day, then called it good to go and posted it for download the next.

However, users who weren't part of the SP1 testing group must wait until March to get their hands on the update, the spokeswoman repeated today. In five to six weeks -- mid-March according to Microsoft -- the service pack will be offered via Windows Update as a 65MB optional update and posted to Download Center as a 450MB stand-alone installer that supports five languages. A month later, in mid-April, Windows Update will automatically download and install SP1 on Vista-equipped PCs whose users have set Automatic Updates to do hands-off updating.

Subscribers to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and TechNet will get a slight jump on the general public. "In early March, MSDN and TechNet subscribers will be able to get the 'Windows Vista with SP1' full DVD," the same spokeswoman said in another e-mail. The updated operating system will be offered to MSDN and TechNet subscribers through their respective download centers.

Microsoft is holding SP1 so that it can identify device drivers that won't reinstall -- as they must -- during the service pack update process. On Monday morning, Mike Nash, vice president of Windows product management, said that while SP1 had met the RTM criteria, it would not be available for several weeks because of the driver problems.

That generated a firestorm of criticism from users, who vented by posting over 200 comments to Nash's announcement, calling the decision "stupid" and "one of the all-time worst moves" by Microsoft.

Judging by the tone of nearly 120 comments left on Microsoft's official TechNet blog, IT professionals and developers are even angrier. The subscribers called the withholding of SP1 "boneheaded" and a "slap in the face," or dubbed it "the Vista SP1 RTM Debacle." Others questioned the value of their TechNet subscriptions, admitted that they had had to download a pirated copy using BitTorrent so that they could start testing, and said they would postpone Vista deployments for months because of the delay.

Several wondered why reviewers in the press had the finished bits before they did.

But a commenter identified only as Joe put it most succinctly: "This is the lamest decision since Microsoft Bob. I get this the same time as my mom?"

The backlash may have gotten through to Microsoft. On Monday night, Kathy Dixon, the TechNet Plus team member who normally writes the blog, said that she was looking into the possibility of moving up the availability date of SP1. But as of Thursday night, she had no solution for users. "I have escalated this and am continuing to push internally for a solution ASAP," Dixon wrote around 8 p.m. EST. "Please hang in there, I should have something more specific soon."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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