DOJ pushes Microsoft to produce Vista SP1 in '07

Under deal struck with regulators, Microsoft must release beta by end of year

It's unusual, but confirmation of the availability of Windows Vista's first service pack came yesterday not from Microsoft Corp., but from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tucked into the government's 27-page joint status settlement report (download PDF) released late Tuesday was evidence that Microsoft will put the beta of Vista SP1 into users' hands before the end of the year. The report also confirmed Windows XP SP3, but did not specify beta or final release dates, although it said some code would be finalized this summer.

Microsoft has been loath to talk about either service pack, but has been particularly mum about Windows Vista SP1, a widely anticipated bug update that some enterprise users are waiting on before deploying the new operating system.

As recently as April, when Intel Corp.'s CEO Paul Otellini hinted that Vista SP1 would likely release in October or November, Microsoft refused to confirm any schedule. "We will continue to take customer feedback from programs like the TAP [Technology Adoption Program], and will ultimately determine an official delivery date as the service pack is nearer to completion," a company spokeswoman said at the time.

In the compromise struck between Microsoft and state and federal antitrust regulators, the company must make changes to Vista's desktop search tool so users and OEMs can pick a default search and indexing program to replace Vista's baked-in software for running Start menu searches. The user- or OEM-selected default must also be an option in searches initiated from Windows Explorer or the Control Panel.

"Microsoft will deliver the required changes in Service Pack 1 of Windows Vista, which Microsoft currently anticipates will be available in beta form by the end of the year," the report stated twice, albeit in slightly-different phrasing each time.

The changes to Vista's desktop search were prompted by a complaint filed by Google, Inc. in late 2006. That complaint accused Microsoft of designing Vista to discourage users from running other developers' indexing and search software. Specifically, Google charged that turning off Vista's desktop search was too difficult for many users, and that with two indexers running -- Microsoft's and Google's, presumably -- PC performance suffered, a side-effect Google said convinced some users not to run its Desktop search application.

Microsoft will be held to its promise to deliver the search changes, the report hinted. "Plaintiffs are collectively satisfied that this agreement will resolve any issues the complaint may raise, provided that Microsoft implements it as promised," regulators said.

Windows XP SP3 also gets a mention in the status report. In earlier updates filed with Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who oversees the 2002 consent decree, Microsoft was ordered to make changes to Windows XP, an OEM pre-installation kit, and other software, including Internet Explorer. "Nearly all outstanding issues have been resolved and the remaining issues will be addressed in the coming weeks," the report said.

According to the May 2006 status update, the government's technical committee was still discussing with Microsoft changes to XP's "Set Program Access and Defaults" feature, a tool that lets users choose default programs for browsing, e-mailing, instant messaging, and playing CDs.

Although Microsoftconfirmed plans to crank out a Windows XP SP3 as long ago as October 2005, it recently reiterated that it wouldn't release the update until sometime in the first half of 2008. The XP modifications mandated by the technical committee, however, are to be finished this summer.

"The Windows XP changes will be incorporated into SP3 for Windows XP," said the report. The changes to the code will be available for review by the TC this summer... [and] the changes... will remain in the final release of SP3."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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