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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Microsoft Corp.'s decision to delay the availability of Windows Vista's first Service Pack

Delaying Vista SP1 unlikely to hurt corporate uptake
Six-week wait has mostly upside
It might seem that Microsoft Corp.'s decision to delay the availability of Windows Vista's first Service Pack for another six weeks due to driver problems is grounded in fear of further alienating consumers, who haven't exactly embraced the new operating system.

But Redmond's move may have been driven by a desire to appease a more important market -- business customers.

Companies typically fork out much more money per head to Microsoft than an individual consumer, through purchases of volume licenses, enterprise support contracts and Software Assurance.

As a result, they expect more.

"I would prefer Microsoft iron out the driver issues," said Sumeeth Evans, IT director for Collegiate Housing Services. The Indianapolis firm rolled out Vista to all 78 employees last year. "We are willing to wait for 6 weeks since most of our non-SP1 machines do perform pretty well."

Microsoft says that most of the drivers that break as a result of SP1 can be fixed by reinstalling them. That might be easy for an individual, but daunting to a company with scattered offices and hundreds or thousands of employees.

"It would be catastrophic for the future of Windows Vista if the Service Pack itself turned out to have major issues as well," said Lee Nicholls, global solutions director for Getronics NV, the Dutch corporate systems integrator.

If consumers have seemed slow to move to Vista, corporations have been even slower. That has as much to do with companies' satisfaction with XP as it does with their built-in conservatism.

SP1 remains a popular milestone, a signal of quality that can spur them to start an upgrade from Windows XP to Vista -- or merely the planning of one.

"We still won't see a huge boom in deployment right away, but it will at least spur plenty of companies into beginning their planning and adoption exercises," Nicholls said.

Pre-announcing SP1 thus helps spur corporations to start planning their Vista deployments. At the same time, a six-week delay in SP1's actual arrival won't matter to most companies.

IT consulting firm Avanade Inc. has been helping some large corporate clients plan for the Vista upgrade for about a year, according to Ryan McCune, a solutions director.

"In the big picture, this timing doesn't significantly affect our clients' deployment strategies or schedules," he said.

What Vista's Service Pack 1 means for computer users
Microsoft has shipped the "RTM" build of Service Pack 1 of Windows Vista, meaning that those of us running this operating system soon will have some relief. The "release to manufacturing" version means that Microsoft is satisfied that this is the correct version that everyone should use, that PC makers should ship in new PCs and consumers should download.

"With Service Pack 1, we have made great progress in performance, reliability and compatibility," said Mike Nash, of Microsoft's Windows Product Management Group, in his public blog. "One of the great things about my job is that I get to play with the latest builds of our products. I've personally been running Windows Vista SP1 pretty exclusively for a few months and I've noticed that my systems run faster and more reliably than they did with the "Gold" release of Windows Vista."

Reliability is the major flaw in Vista for many corporations. Microsoft is quick to point out that it has licensed more than 100 million copies of Vista to date but that does not take into account the number of computers, including mine, that have Vista stickers on the bottom and XP on the hard drive.

Most companies won't even think of moving to Vista in the enterprise until after the first service pack so next month's consumer release is huge.

Microsoft says it bundles more than 300 patches and improvements in one bundle, which will be welcome. One of my Vista laptops, for example, won't run Windows Media Player; another won't run Word (it says the problem is caused by "Microsoft Word, a product of Microsoft Corporation" and suggests I contact them for advice.)

The biggest improvements? File copying, both locally and via a network, is up to 50 percent faster under SP1. Secondly, resuming from sleep, which is death on one of my Dell laptops, is now supposedly fixed in the new service pack.

If you're looking for new features, this is not the service pack for you.

The downside? There are some device drivers identified during the beta process that do not work well with SP1. The issue was with how the drivers were installed and not with the drivers themselves, so while Microsoft works with the vendor on a new process, the service pack simply won't install for now if it detects any of the affected drivers. (Microsoft, for now, has not released what drivers are involved.)

The Service Pack will be released via Windows Update in mid March for customers who proactively run the update. In April the Service Pack will be "pushed" to computers that have automatic updates turned on, as most computers do.

"The result is that more and more systems will automatically get SP1, but only when we are confident they will have a good experience," Nash wrote.

My recommendations have not changed. Install the Service Pack immediately when it is released but back up all of your important data first. If possible, back up your entire PC if losing all of your settings would be an inconvenience. Installing SP1 is a big deal so take it seriously.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim(at)

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