Vista reaches crunchtime with SP1 (the beta)

It is an axiom in IT that you shouldn't buy a new operating system until after the release of the first service pack

Perhaps more than any other Microsoft operating system release, Windows Vista is making slow progress and user gripes are not hard to find.

I’ve been using it for the last few months and have to say, the more I get to know Vista, the less I like it. My major bugbear is it’s slow. Slow to start and slow to stop. Then there are the driver issues — not directly Microsoft’s fault but very directly Microsoft’s problem.

Other users will have different gripes, but I’m a simple soul. I wish I’d opted for XP (or maybe OS X).

Anyway, everything that has happened to date could yet be forgotten. XP itself was subject to similar scrutiny and criticism when it was released, but now has a lot of fans. It is an axiom in IT that you shouldn’t buy a new operating system (correction: a new Microsoft operating system) until after the release of the first service pack. Vista Service Pack 1 now looms.

On Microsoft’s Windows Vista blog last week came official news of SP1. Microsoft product manager Nick White first pointed out that the company no longer relies on service packs as the sole way of updating Windows. Windows Update makes sure this happens fairly constantly with two performance and improvement updates pushed out last week.

White then goes on to reassure Vista users that Microsoft is working with partners to ensure driver compatibility (yay!).

“In addition to updates we’ve previously released, SP1 will contain changes focused on addressing specific reliability and performance issues we’ve identified via customer feedback, supporting new types of hardware, and adding support for several emerging standards,” White says.

“SP1 also makes additional improvements to the IT administration experience. We didn’t design SP1 as a vehicle for releasing new features; however, some existing components do gain enhanced functionality in SP1.”

All well and good, except the SP1 White is talking about is still an SP1 beta, due in the “next few weeks”. SP1 itself is “targeted for release” in the first quarter of 2008.

Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of the Windows core operating system division at Microsoft, fleshes out the detail.

“I should start by saying that one thing people shouldn’t expect to see is new features, although some existing components and features will be enhanced,” he says.

“For example, we’ve added support in BitLocker drive encryption for encrypting multiple volumes on the PC, and have improved printer management by simplifying printing to a local printer from within a Terminal Server session. Service packs typically are not vehicles for new features, and the same will be true with Windows Vista SP1.”

DeVaan says SP1 will contain changes to address feedback from customers. It will address reliability and performance issues, such as copying files and shutdown time.

“It will support new types of hardware and emerging standards, like EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) and ExFat (a new file format that will be used in flash memory storage and consumer devices),” he says.

Make no mistake, for many prospective buyers SP1 will be crunchtime. Loyal Microsoft customers such as Kiwibank say they are not ready for Vista because of hardware constraints (Computerworld August 20). Carter Holt, more worryingly, indicates it may skip Vista altogether because it can’t see the benefits. And then there are worrying signs of Apple gaining momentum in the laptop market. SP1 has to be good.

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