Microsoft has announced the RTM (release to manufacturing) availability of Vista's first service pack, Vista SP1. PC Advisor spoke to Microsoft today to get the full details about Windows Vista SP1.

The first PCs with Vista SP1 preinstalled are likely to appear towards the end of April 2008, depending on how quickly original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are able to test the software for themselves and then roll it out to PCs.

According to Microsoft's UK Windows client product marketing manager, Mike Haigh, Microsoft is now in the process of providing code and Vista certificates to its manufacturer and OEM hardware partners. The next step in the rollout of Vista SP1 will be to provide code to Microsoft's volume licence partners – probably in the first half of March. After this, SP1 code will go out to retail.

However, rather than making it easier for users to update their systems, Microsoft is extending its software validation program to volume licence key-holders. Licence key leakage has become a particular issue with volume key holders, Microsoft says.

As yet there is no specific date for Windows Vista SP1 to debut on Windows Update.

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Windows Vista SP1 Release Candidate review

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Standard security patches and hotfixes aside, it will be business as usual for the Windows Update program with continuous updates to Vista's security, but no planned interim auto-updates for Windows. Haigh explained that, unlike in previous times, Windows users no longer have to wait for a big service pack update and that Vista SP1 is an amalgamation of updates.

While Haigh had no details to share on the most requested change to Windows Vista, he said "anecdotal feedback including online crash analysis and Windows error reporting had resulted in improvements to Vista's performance and compatibility".

When Vista launched a little over a year ago, Microsoft was roundly criticised for the lack of compatibility with many software and hardware products, particularly with security software and graphics hardware. This was despite the company's stated focus on producing a more secure operating system and one that was largely dependent on its graphics sub-system.

Haigh says more than 10 times as many applications are now supported than at Vista's launch. He cited a figure of more than 2.2 million devices worldwide that will work with the operating system.

Haigh wasn't able to reassure us that installing SP1 will result in a leaner, faster machine that fires up quickly, however. In response to queries about whether this was one of the issues Microsoft had addressed in response to user feedback, we were told that "speeding up the machine" actually referred to how quickly it resumed from sleep mode or resumed a session. Performance improvements include "faster copying and moving of files" after Vista users reported "unnecessarily long copy operations".

Installing SP1 itself, however, shouldn't be a huge trial – at least not now Microsoft has ironed out the bug that meant that some testers attempting to trial Vista SP1 Release Candidate 1 were unable to do so.

See also:

Windows Vista SP1 Release Candidate review

Haigh says consumers should expect a download of "a little over 60MB if installing over Windows Update". IT managers installing Vista SP1 on enterprise networks should "expect a standalone package [a disc] containing a slightly heftier download".

NEXT PAGE: a swift rollout for Windows Vista SP1? Microsoft thinks so > >

Microsoft expects the rollout of Vista SP1 to be swift given that users are clamouring for improvements to the much-maligned operating system and "because it's going to be available as a download just like another update". Consumers and small business users will be able to download Vista SP1 from the Microsoft Update site and SP1 will eventually be rolled out sometime after April via the Automatic Update program.

As with existing updates to Microsoft programs, users will be required to validate their copy of Windows Vista before they are able to receive updates. Failure to provide a valid key or to pass Microsoft's online validation test will eventually result in the Vista system functioning only partially, with increasingly frequent reminders of the need to validate the OS.

Microsoft's Haigh claims a very low error rate for the Windows Genuine Advantage program, as the online validation method is known. He said "less than a percent; less than 0. percent" of systems were wrongly thrown up as being invalid and urged anyone who encountered such a problem to contact Microsoft to sort it out.

In cases where a user could prove they had been scammed into buying a pirated version of Vista by providing the media and a receipt for it, Microsoft was inclined to give the user a "complimentary copy", said Haigh. This, he said, was because Microsoft was particularly keen to stamp out piracy, not least because "those who haven't got a legitimate version are more likely to have spyware on their machine".