Microsoft has finally revealed its planned release date for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and also said it would release the third service pack for Windows XP next year.
Vista SP1, which was rumoured to be imminent but never had a confirmed release date, is slated to hit beta in the next couple of weeks, according to company officials.
XP also will get another refresher in the next few weeks when Microsoft releases the third service pack for the soon-to-be outdated OS to customers and partners. Windows XP SP3 will be the last service pack update for XP, and will include previously released updates as well as a small number of new fixes. It shouldn't dramatically alter the XP experience, according to Microsoft.
The Vista service pack will ship between January and March 2008. Previously, Microsoft officials said it would ship with Windows Server 2008, which now is scheduled for release at a planned event in Los Angeles on 27 February, although there is a danger it could miss this date.
Microsoft officials said they were coy on the release date of the software because they wanted to make sure it was ready.
"We wanted to find the time where we could balance readiness and the ability to give solid information," said David Zipkin, a senior product manager for Windows Vista. "If we go out with information and it is too early and [that information] changes, that can cause a lot of misdirection and a lot of effort for customers and partners."
Over the years, SP1 versions of any Microsoft products have become a milestone that some companies wait for before they even consider rolling out the software; therefore, early announcements of an SP1 delivery date can cannibalise early adoption of new software.
Vista SP1 will include a number of bug fixes and performance enhancements but no new features, the company said.
One major change, however, focuses on the way anti-virus and firewall software interacts with Windows Security Center, and could result in those applications being cut off from Security Center monitoring. The applications themselves would continue to function as normal although they would not report data to the Security Center.
Microsoft is changing the way Security Center talks to some applications and is working with vendors which need to update their software, according to Zipkin.
Microsoft plans to support the original version of Vista shipped in November 2006 for 24 months after Vista SP1 is available to ensure adequate time for testing application compatibility.
Microsoft also added the ability for users to install their search engine of choice.
SP1 will ship with all language versions included so it can be used to update any PC, but that convenience balloons the file to 1GB and requires 7GB of space to install, according to Microsoft.
On the performance side, Microsoft has improved the speed of copying and unzipping files, improved the time to resume working from Hibernate mode, and eliminated delays in the logon sequence and opening files after disconnecting from corporate domains.
SP1 also adds support for the Extended File Allocation Table file system, which is suited for flash drives in cameras and media players. Microsoft also is extending the BitLocker feature so users can encrypt any drive on the system. Previously, the feature only worked on the C drive.
For XP SP3, which is essentially a roll-up of previously released updates, Microsoft said the most significant inclusion will be a client for Network Access Protection (NAP) that is the functional equivalent of the client in Vista. NAP is Microsoft's network-access-control technology for verifying that a client desktop is secure before it's allowed onto a network. It requires software on both the client and the server. The server piece will ship with Windows Server 2008.
Microsoft also will change the activation to match that of Vista. Users will be able to use the software for 30 days before they have to enter a product activation code.