Microsoft Wednesday confirmed months-long speculation that the first service pack for Windows Vista will be out sometime in the first quarter next year, along with a third and final service pack for its hardy predecessor, XP.
The first major update to Vista will contain a number of tweaks to speed up the operating system and fix nagging reliability problems, according to David Zipkin, a senior product manager for Windows Vista.
"This is not about adding new features," he said.
The SP1 beta will be released by the end of September, though it will be limited to no more than 15,000 Microsoft partners and customers, Zipkin said. Another beta or release candidate will be distributed to a larger pool of testers before SP1's final release, which is slated for sometime before March 31.
The service pack will also keep Vista in synch with the code of Windows Server 2008. Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 have been developed from the same general source code, and SP1 will include a number code changes that have been made during the development of Windows Server 2008.
Until today, Microsoft had been unwilling to confirm any speculation about Vista SP1. Despite Microsoft's secrecy, or perhaps because of it, beta copies of SP1 have already leaked to pirate sites.
Analysts said that Microsoft's decision to finally lay out the Vista roadmap should encourage corporations, most of which remain on the sidelines, to start testing and planning for a Vista upgrade.
"Regardless of whether this is justified or not, experience tells desktop managers to not deploy a new Windows operating system until SP1," said Ben Gray, an analyst with Forrester Research. "SP1 is technically important because it will add support for emerging technologies, devices and standards and will address some early end user feedback, but it's also symbolically significant for enterprises that have temporarily held off evaluating or deploying Vista."
Gray expects SP1 to help kick off "full-scale enterprise adoption" of Vista by mid-2008.
To appease consumers and corporations still loyal to XP, Microsoft said it will release a beta and final version of XP SP3 on the same schedule as Vista SP1.
"XP is not a dead OS," said Stephen Kleynhans, an analyst with Gartner.
Millions sold, but plenty of holdouts to convince
Microsoft has sold more than 42 million volume licenses of Windows since it first made Vista available to corporations last November, Zipkin said. (It had also, as of late July, shipped more than 60 million Vista PCs to consumers and small businesses.)
Microsoft claims to have no statistics on how many corporate users have moved to Vista, though Zipkin said that a number of organizations should have at least 10,000 Vista PCs by year's end, including Citigroup, Continental Airlines, Charter Communications Inc. and two Indian technology firms (and Microsoft partners), Tata and Infosys Technologies.
But that belies numerous reports of corporations standing pat on Windows XP or 2000, with some even choosing to exercise "downgrade rights" in order to wipe Vista off new PCs and reinstall the 6-year-old XP instead.