FAQ: How to get Vista SP1

The long-awaited OS update from Microsoft arrives, but can you get it?

After refusing to let most users have Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) for weeks, Microsoft finally said everyone could have it.

Well, almost everyone.

The details of who gets SP1 now and how -- and who doesn't and why -- were pretty Byzantine, even for Windows. Microsoft recognized that, and dedicated one of its longer Vista blog posts to the topic.

So where will SP1 show up and when and for whom? Good questions.

We have the answers. Or at least we think so, based on the info from Microsoft.

What's the (Microsoft) plan, Stan?

Simply put -- which nothing is, naturally -- Microsoft has said that Vista users can update to SP1 via Windows Update (WU) now by manually selecting the service pack from the WU list. Next month, the company will toggle the automatic bit, so to speak, and begin pushing SP1 to all Vista users who have Automatic Updates set to both download and install fixes automatically. Other users who have Automatic Updates set to download patches but notify them before installing -- or to simply notify them that something is available -- will get the notices regarding SP1 from Automatic Updates in "mid-April," as Microsoft has said. David Zipkin, a Vista senior product manager, said that Microsoft might flip that bit early if things go well this month.

That's SP1 delivery in a nutshell. Except -- there's almost always an except -- some people who want SP1 now, who don't want to wait until April, won't see the service pack pop up on WU. In fact, Microsoft's posted a support document that lists eight, as in count 'em, eight, reasons why there's no Vista SP1 for you.

I stay away from Windows Update and let the OS do its own thing. I have no idea what you're talking about. So where do I start?

Click the Start menu, navigate to "All Programs" and in the ensuing list, look for "Windows Update." Click that. You're in WU. You should refresh the list by clicking on "Check For Updates."

This is the list of updates offered to your PC. If you're lucky, SP1 is there. It should read "Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (KB936330)."

Okay, I'm staring at Windows Update's list, and don't see Service Pack 1. What do I do?

First things first. If you're so eager for SP1's final bits, it's likely that you tried one of the preliminary versions that Microsoft released to all comers starting last December. That has to come off. Uninstall it. Head to Control Panels, pull up "Uninstall Programs," click on "View Installed Updates," find the now-obsolete Release Candidate (RC) of SP1 and make it go away.

I didn't try an early version of SP1 but Microsoft still won't give me the service pack. What's my next move?

Microsoft's releasing SP1 in two waves. The first, which is the one that broke ashore last week, is suitable only for the English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish versions of the OS. So if you're using one of the other 31 languages that Microsoft supports -- Arabic anyone? -- WU won't show you the update.

To find out which languages are installed, go to Control Panels and select "Regional and Language Options."

If you're really eager, you could uninstall the blocking language pack and fire up WU again. Head to the Regional and Language Options control panel, then select the "Keyboards and Languages" tab, then click on "Install/Uninstall Languages."

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