Microsoft: 'Whoa now' on Vista SP1

Company backs off what appeared to be stated in last month's DOJ filing

Microsoft on Thursday quelled rumors that the beta of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) was just around the corner.

"There will be a Windows Vista service pack, and our current expectation is that a beta will be made available sometime this year," a company spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement prior to the afternoon conference call with analysts about Microsoft's quarterly earnings.

Talk had mounted since talk of an impending release of an SP1 beta on such blogs as istartedsomething and All About Microsoft. None of the sources quoted, however, specified whether the beta would be open to all or on an invite-only basis; the latter is typically a step in Microsoft's testing process prior to offering a beta to all comers.

"Service packs are part of the traditional software life cycle -- they're something we do for all Microsoft products as part of our commitment to continuous improvement," continued the spokeswoman, "and providing early test builds is a standard practice that helps us incorporate customer feedback and improve the overall quality of the product."

The company has played SP1 close to its vest -- even to the point of disputing early on that one would be necessary. But as part of the deal brokered with antitrust regulators in June, Microsoft came close to promising the update this year. SP1, said Microsoft, will include several agreed-upon changes to Vista's search tools, part of its effort to blunt criticism from Google, which has argued that the operating system makes it difficult at best for third-party desktop search providers to compete with the built-in features.

"Microsoft will deliver the required changes in Service Pack 1 of Windows Vista, which Microsoft currently anticipates will be available in beta form by the end of the year," read the 27-page joint status settlement report released one month ago.

Microsoft continued to downplay the importance of SP1. "Clearly there will be a SP1, but at this stage, we're not talking about exactly when that is," added Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell during the earnings conference call this afternoon. "We don't see it as a massive driver of uptake in its own right."

SP1 holds special importance to Vista because many large corporate customers have said they will hold off deploying the new operating system until the update has gone final. Liddell, however, countered that thinking to some extent today. "It's early days yet, and we're broadly happy with how we're seeing Vista adoption, but we always expected that the business uptake would be driven by their needs rather than the availability of Vista [SP1]," he added.

Another mark of Microsoft's reticence about discussing the future was revealed last week, when the company took the time to say it had nothing to say about the next version of Windows. Around that same time, a thread on Microsoft's own enthusiast site, Channel9, discussing an invite-only list of recommendations for Vista's follow-on was locked. The post was later deleted.

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Gregg Keizer

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