Leaked Vista hotfix packs official, ready to download

Microsoft also confirms Vista SP1 and XP SP3 now in hands of testers

Microsoft Tuesday released the two Windows Vista updates that had leaked to the Internet at the end of July, but it won't say when it will begin pushing them to users via Windows Update.

Pegged as performance and reliability packs, the updates install a long list of nonsecurity bug fixes, including one that improves the speed of the wake-from-hibernation function, a patch that eliminates the long wait to calculate the time it will take to copy or move large directories, and several fixes that target compatibility glitches with video drivers.

Microsoft even used this vague but ominous-sounding phrase in its description of one of the quashed bugs: "The computer stops responding or restarts unexpectedly when you play video games or perform desktop operations."

All of the fixes, said the company, are new to Vista and do not replace any existing updates. Users must restart their computers after each update is installed.

The performance update, designated KB938979, weighs in at nearly 10MB and can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center. The accompanying support document is also available.

Vista's reliability update, KB938194, is petite by comparison -- just 2.1MB. Also now available for downloading, it has a Knowledge Base document that spells out changes.

Previews of the now-official updates had leaked to the Web at the end of July, fueling speculation that they were connected to the highly anticipated Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) and might even be harbingers of SP1's release. A day later, July 31, a Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed that the hotfix packs would end up in user's hands "in the near future" but declined to answer questions about any link to SP1.

The company did recently confirm, however, that it has released preview code for Vista SP1, as well as preview code for the long-delayed Windows XP Service Pack 3, to small invitation-only groups of testers. But it would not say when final versions of the updates to each operating system will be released.

So far, Microsoft has only committed to providing a beta of Vista SP1 "sometime this year," and it has consistently downplayed the service pack to the point of stifling talk of the security rollup. Many corporations, on the other hand, appear to be waiting for SP1 before deploying the new operating system.

Windows XP SP3 has an even longer, and more troubled, history. Last October, Microsoft announced a delay of SP3 and pushed the release into the first half of 2008, more than a year after the retail release of Vista and about three and a half years after SP2 appeared. Hints of XP SP3's progress were tucked into a status report filed with the federal judge overseeing the 2002 antitrust settlement struck between U.S. regulators and Microsoft, but details were slim. The report confirmed the existence of SP3 and said some code would be finalized in the summer of 2007, but it did not specify either beta or final release dates.

On Tuesday, in fact, a Microsoft representative called the first-half 2008 date for SP3 "preliminary" and declined to disclose more details.

Microsoft Wednesday again refused to specify when the Vista performance and reliability updates would migrate to the company's automatic patching services; a spokeswoman would only say that the packs would post to Windows Update "in the near future." Some bloggers and users have been betting that the hotfix packs will be offered up next Tuesday, the already-scheduled monthly patch day for Microsoft. Others, however, have discounted that date, saying Microsoft would not overtax users or the automatic update systems with such large downloads.

Elizabeth Montalbano of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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