Microsoft releases service-pack previews for Vista, XP

Microsoft has quietly released preview code to two key Windows service packs to testers.

Microsoft has quietly released pre-beta code to two forthcoming Windows service packs to testers in the past week, but the company continues to remain vague about when the final code for Windows XP Service Pack 3 and Windows Vista SP1 will make it to end users.

Microsoft confirmed Tuesday that it released preview code for both XP SP3, but still would not say directly when the updates to each OS will be released in their final versions.

While Microsoft said it will have a beta of Vista SP1 available "sometime this year," it won't commit to a more firm date or speculate when the final release will be available. Some insiders had expected a beta to be available by now, though one has yet to materialize. As for Windows XP SP3, Microsoft said it is shooting for the first half of next year, but called that date "preliminary" and declined to disclose more details.

A third service pack for XP, which has been in the works for some time, may seem a moot point now that Vista has been available to consumers for about seven months and to business users for nine. However, there are many XP users, particularly business customers, that would find a third service pack for the OS valuable, said Samir Bhavnani, a research director at Current Analysis West.

"A lot of businesses will run XP for a while before they migrate," he said. "I think people always underestimate how much testing is done before someone upgrades to a new generation OS. Many of Microsoft's best customers won't use Vista for years."

That said, Vista SP1 also is an important release for spurring business users to upgrade to the newest OS, Bhavnani said. "SP1 is a very big mental hurdle to clear," he said. "SP1 will get a lot more businesses to adopt Vista than the version that exists today."

Bhavnani deemed the releases made available to testers in the last week minor developments, but said that they do show some progress on Microsoft's part to get the service packs out the door. On the other hand, they also stir up more anxiety among Windows users about when the next service packs will be available, he said.

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