Microsoft to hold Vista SP1 release for six weeks

Code's finished, claims company, but bad drivers block deployment; users confused

As expected, Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has finished Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), but the company threw users a curve when it told them that the update won't be available for at least another six weeks. (See FAQ.)

"We are excited to announce that we have released Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista to manufacturing (RTM) for our first set of languages," Mike Nash, vice president of Windows product management, said in a post to Microsoft's official Vista blog Monday morning. Microsoft uses RTM, or "release to manufacturing," to designate the stage where code has been completed and is moving into duplication and distribution.

But while the long-anticipated service pack -- a massive update that will run as large as 550MB in a stand-alone installer that includes all 36 supported languages -- was signed off on by the company today, users won't get a crack at it until mid-March at the earliest, said Nash.

"In mid-March, we will release Windows Vista SP1 to Windows Update and to the download center on," Nash said, adding that it will then be an optional download, not an automatic one. Only a month later, in mid-April, will users who have set Vista to automatically download and install high-priority updates will receive the service pack, he said.

And maybe not then.

"Our beta testing identified an issue with a small set of device drivers," said Nash. "These drivers do not follow our guidelines for driver installation and as a result, some beta participants who were using Windows Vista and updated to Service Pack 1 reported issues with these devices."

Nash did not identify the balky drivers or the hardware manufacturers responsible for crafting those drivers.

The problem is serious enough that users whose PCs have installed the drivers will not be offered SP1 through Windows Update. The update mechanism, in fact, will sniff out the drivers and then block machines with them from seeing or receiving SP1. "As SP1 gets delivered through Windows Update, we will only offer it to PCs that we detect don't have any of the affected device drivers installed," said Nash.

Microsoft is taking the next month to identify as many of the problematic drivers as possible, noted Nash.

Users were confused and frustrated. A thread on Microsoft's own Channel 9, a marketing site the company uses to communicate with developers, included several messages from bewildered Vista users. "What the hell guys?" asked someone identified as "Bas," referring to the news that SP1 would not be immediately available.

Another user was more direct. "This is bull crap," charged another user identified as "Pon." "The only reason that they're not offering it right now is because of a bug where you might have to reinstall drivers. Why can't they just release it on Microsoft Download now, and then push the fixed version on Windows Update later?"

Nash had an answer of sorts in his post. "We want to deliver a better experience for customers as we make the update broadly available," he said.

Vista SP1, which reports late last week had predicted would go RTM today, has been in testing since August 2007, when Microsoft finally confirmed that it would produce a service pack. For several months after the launch of Vista in January 2007, in fact, Microsoft executives wavered on whether to produce a service pack, with some claiming that the process was made obsolete by the revamped Windows Update mechanism integrated with Vista.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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