Microsoft posts Vista SP1 RC for download

Microsoft Wednesday opened the preview of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) to the general public, but it required users to go through an elaborate process that involves multiple reboots before they are allowed to download it from the company's update service.

The long-anticipated Vista SP1 Release Candidate (RC) has been added to Windows Update, where any user running a valid copy of Vista can grab it, the company said Wednesday. Microsoft first seeded preliminary copies of the service pack to thousands of by-invitation-only testers in September.

"Today we made the SP1 RC available to the public on Microsoft's Download Center," a company spokeswoman said in an e-mail. "Because Windows Vista SP1 will be available to hundreds of millions of customers, we want to make sure we get a breadth and depth of customer feedback. By increasing the test base of SP1, this helps customers ensure [there] will be a thoroughly tested product at RTM [release to manufacturing]."

To get the release candidate, however, users must jump through the hoops detailed in a document posted to Microsoft's support Web site. "Systems running on Windows Vista RTM require as many as three updates before SP1 can be installed," the document warns. "Windows Update will detect your system configuration and offer the prerequisite packages that are applicable to your system."

Before doing that, however, a script must be downloaded and run. The script sets a registry key required for Windows Update to sniff out the system as eligible for a SP1 RC update. After that, two additional updates are necessary -- each followed by a reboot of the operating system -- before Microsoft's servers confirm that the machine is suitable for SP1. Only then do they offer the download.

According to Microsoft, when Vista SP1 is offered to users normally through Windows Update, the prerequisite steps will have already taken place automatically over several nights. Microsoft has not set a definitive release date for SP1, other than to promise that it will launch sometime in the first three months of 2008.

The SP1 release candidate will have to be uninstalled before applying the final code in 2008, Microsoft warned as it also issued an odd caution on the subject. "After you uninstall Service Pack for Windows (KB936330), we recommend that you wait at least one hour before you try to install the final release of Windows Vista SP1," another support document read.

The company also noted that SP1 RC will expire at the end of June 2008.

To begin the process of updating a Vista-powered PC to SP1 RC, users should follow these instructions.

Not everything slated for the final version of SP1 has made it into the release candidate, however. Major changes to Vista's antipiracy scheme outlined only last week are not included, for example.

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