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Feature: Windows Vista SP1 explained

Everything you need to know about Vista SP1

After lots of whispers, rumours from beta testers and confusing messages from Microsoft executives, Microsoft has finally revealed the full details about Windows Vista's first service pack. The company confirmed a three-month launch window, with a beta testers getting their hands on the update during September.

There are unanswered questions, but we know more now than at any time since Vista’s launch and there’s a lot riding on the success of the upgrade.

With that in mind, we took our first shot at SP1. Certainly, there will be more.

In the meantime, all hail SP1.

When will Windows Vista SP1 roll out in beta, and when in final form?

Microsoft is saying only "a few weeks" and "September", which are, after all, one and the same, for the beta. As for the final release, the software maker finally acknowledged rumours circulating June that the service pack be fully available until the first quarter of 2008. Earlier talk had centred on the last quarter of 2007 as the presumed ship time for SP1, but that's clearly not in the cards. Microsoft’s August briefing included a slide with the line "Release date will depend on confirmation from beta testers," which is essentially what the company said numerous times in 2006 as it worked toward Vista's delayed launch. In other words: Microsoft is leaving itself room for manoeuvre.

Who will get a crack at SP1 beta?

You might want to sit down. Microsoft has said that it will seed the September build to between just 10,000 and 15,000 partners and customers. Don't act so surprised - the beta track regularly runs from private-private to private-public to public-public, with few deviations and no detours. How it plans on doing that is a mystery. Invite only? Concert seating, mad rush to the URL? Lottery?

Microsoft has confused us with its nomenclature. On the Vista team's blog, program manager Nick White said, "A later pre-release of SP1 will be available to a larger group of testers via MSDN and TechNet subscribers." Later prerelease? Does that mean the beta, or a post-beta, such as the inevitable release candidate? We're awaiting clarification.

Will there be a bigger beta, a public-public?

Yeah sure, why not? Actually, Microsoft said it would distribute the beta, or maybe a release candidate, to a larger group between September and the final release. Details? Nothing more than White's confusing comment. You decipher; they'll decide.

Why all the fuss about a service pack, anyway? We have a couple of explanations as to why Service Packs are now very important to the Windows food chain. First, the obvious. The advice to wait for the service pack may be apocryphal, but if it is myth, it has become reality. Microsoft needs to stake out SP1 to convince major customers that it's time to deploy its not-quite-so-new operating system. Sure, they've already paid, or most of them have, for Vista with licensing agreements such as Software Assurance. But the sooner they move to Vista, the sooner they will, presumably, move on to what comes after Vista.


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