Windows Vista SP1
Beta Set to Debut “>
Microsoft is finally talking about the much-anticipated first service pack for Windows Vista and will release the first beta to a select group of about 15,000 customer and partner testers within the next few weeks.
The Redmond, Wash., software maker will release the beta for Windows XP Service Pack 3 at the same time.
Microsoft acknowledged Aug. 29 that it has already shared beta previews of Windows XP SP3 and Vista SP1 with small group of testers, a fact it refused to admit until recently despite numerous leaks on the Internet.
Vista SP1 will also be made available to a larger group of testers “to make sure the community at large does have a chance to test appropriately” some time after the first beta is released, David Zipkin, senior product manager for Windows Client, told eWEEK Aug. 28.
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But he would not say when that is likely to take place—given that it will depend on the feedback received from the initial set of testers—or whether it will be known as Vista SP1 Beta 2.
The current plan is to release Vista SP1 to manufacturing in the first quarter of 2008, with XP SP3 slated for release sometime in the first half of next year.
Zipkin stressed that Vista SP1 will be very different from Windows XP SP2, which was all about security and broke a large number of applications, including some of Microsofts own, as it involved trade-offs around application compatibility and the user experience.
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“That is not our intent with Vista SP1, which we are designing to limit user interface changes as much as possible. Those UI changes that we do make will be quite small and will not require retraining or anything like that,” he said.
Microsoft is going to do its best to limit any impact on application compatibility with SP1 and plans to add some shims to improve this, said Zipkin, who also noted that the service pack will include a change to the way applications communicate with the Windows Security Center.
Starting with Vista SP1, application developers will have to use a new set of APIs to provide status updates to the Windows Security Center rather than using the Windows Management Interface. They must also embed an application manifest with the application and authenticode sign the reporting application, Zipkin said.
“These development requirements will be required on all Windows Vista SP1 computers. Windows Security Center will continue to provide current status updates for software that is not compatible with Windows Vista SP1 Windows Security Center requirements for 90 days after SP1 is installed,” he said.
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If the application has not been updated to use the new Windows Security Center APIs during that time, the Windows Security Center will report the applications status as “yellow,” indicating that the Security Center cannot verify the applications status, he said.
Some of the improvements in SP1 also have trade-offs, the most significant one being the download size of the stand-alone package.
While the service pack will be less than half the size of XP SP2, at about 50MB, when downloaded over Windows Update, where it is significantly compressed, the stand-alone package used by IT administrators to push out to PCs will be 1GB in size, Zipkin said.
One of the reasons is SP1 will include all 36 languages, so an administrator could apply it to any PC in the organization regardless of language. Also, when delivered over Windows Update, it will be possible to send differentials to the files, so that if just 20 percent of the file changed, just that 20 percent would be sent. The stand-alone version, however, includes the full component, so if a file is changed inside a component, the entire component is sent.
As Vista SP1 has been closely aligned with the development of Windows Server 2008, which will be released Feb. 27, 2008, and there is a large amount of common code between the two, a significant number of components have been changed.
Secretive SP1 Planning
“The server has made a number of changes in common binaries, and there are a number of common binaries that we share, but all this will not be visible to end users in any real way,” Zipkin said.
He was also vague about whether SP1 will be released at the same time as Windows Server 2008, which Microsoft executives previously confirmed was the plan. Zipkin said that while they are related engineering projects, they are separate products and there is some engineering flexibility between them.
Asked why Microsoft was so secretive about its plans for Vista SP1, even while it was prepared to talk publicly about Windows 7, the next version of Windows due around 2010, Zipkin said the company did not want to cause misdirection and pain for its customers and partners by saying too much, too soon.
“Some people change their product schedules based on the information we share, and so we wanted to hold off until we had a reasonable level of confidence. We think this is the appropriate balance of giving customers and partners enough time for them to be ready for Vista SP1, and enough confidence on our side,” he said.
Microsoft is also sticking to its upbeat assessment of Vista and its current adoption path, with Zipkin telling eWEEK that the company is “happy with the momentum, which is moving along well,” with some 42 million seats presently licensed through its volume licensing programs.
He also pointed to a range of enterprises that have already started using Vista, including Infosys, which has 4,000 seats deployed to date but expects to have 20,000 by the end of the year, and Continental Airlines, with 2,000 seats already deployed and 10,000 expected by years end.
Zipkin also pointed out that there were 12 security issues and vulnerabilities with Vista in its first six months, versus the 36 Windows XP had over the same time period.
Zipkin did, however, acknowledge that customer experiences with Vista range from excellent to frustrating, noting that Microsoft is addressing that in several ways, even before the release of SP1.
“The first of these is device coverage and quality. We had 1.5 million devices covered when Vista was released to manufacturing, and we have added another 700,000 since then. We also now have over 10,000 logoed, and that number is increasing at a greater rate than it did for XP,” he said.
With regard to application compatibility, more than 70 enterprise applications, including anti-virus and VPN products, have been certified for Vista since its launch. These come from Citrix, Oracle, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, LANDesk and IBM, pushing the total number of applications that carry the Vista logo to nearly 2,100.
“So, in a nutshell, you can see that good things are happening continuously. As devices and applications are remediated, we make those available as soon as possible, and, when appropriate, we make improvements over Windows Update or other channels,” he said.
The service pack is just another channel that Microsoft has for which to improve the customer experience. “We view SP1 as a vehicle for improvements and enhancements to existing features, but not for new features. We are going back to basics here and looking at service packs as a way to improve the overall experience customers are having, not to alter the value proposition,” he said.
Zipkin was evasive when asked if he believes many customers are waiting for the first service pack before seriously considering an upgrade. “Customers move at different times and for different reasons, and, yes, some customers do wait for SP1. Its hard to say if adoption will pick up more after SP1 is released,” he said.
Vista SP1 will include all previously released updates as well as performance improvements in key areas where the company has had the most customer feedback.
Examples of this include the work the team is doing to improve the delays when hitting the Control, Alt, Delete keys simultaneously and trying to log on, as well as in improving the time it takes a system to resume from Hibernate and Standby, he said.