With Vista SP2, Microsoft is back on track

With Vista SP2, Microsoft is back on track

Summary: Reliable reports suggest that Microsoft plans to release Windows Vista Service Pack 2 to manufacturing in April 2009, roughly a year after it delivered SP1. Some observers are inferring from this schedule that ista SP2 is being "rushed out the door" and that "Microsoft seems to be in a hurry with this release.” They all need to dust off their Windows history books to see that the reality is exactly the opposite. If Vista SP2 does make its official appearance in April, it will mark a return to normal development and release cycles for Microsoft, which lost its way badly with Windows XP. I've got the proof, complete with charts.


Update 2-December: An alert reader points out that the original version of the graphics for this post used an incorrect date for the release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1. I have corrected the graphics to reflect the correct release date and interval between RTM and the estimated arrival of SP2.

From the other side of the world comes a report that Windows Vista Service Pack 2 will be released to manufacturing in April 2009, roughly a year 14 months after SP1. The Malaysian website TechARP has a pretty good track record with this sort of prediction, and my sources tell me that schedule sounds about right.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S.A., some people are inferring more Vista doom and gloom from this schedule. My buddy Dwight Silverman at the Houston Chronicle says “SP2 is being rushed out the door” to keep up Vista’s momentum. Eweek’s Channel Insider calls SP2 a “last-ditch attempt to drum up sales for [the] beleaguered [Vista] operating system.” The Register says "Microsoft seems to be in a hurry with this release.”

They all need to dust off their Windows history books to see that the reality is exactly the opposite. If Vista SP2 does make its official appearance in April, it will mark a return to normal development and release cycles for Microsoft, which lost its way badly with Windows XP.

I’ve got the proof, in easy-to-read chart format. Here’s a timeline of every Windows service pack Microsoft has delivered since the release of Windows NT 4.0 in July 1996. Each color-coded bar represents the number of days between each service pack and its predecessor (RTM, in the case of SP1 releases). See any patterns?

Windows Service Packs, 1996-2009, revised

As measured by service pack releases, the XP era was a distinct anomaly for Microsoft. Over the past 12 years, Microsoft has delivered 14 Windows service packs. The gap between SP1 and SP2 was a record 697 days, nearly two full years. But that pales in comparison to the gap between SP2 and SP3, which was nearly four years. If we throw out SP3 and also disregard NT4 SP2, which appeared a mere 59 days after its predecessor, we discover that the average gap between service-pack releases is around 300 days, or just under a year apart. If Vista SP2 arrives in mid-April 2009, it will be 355 436 days since its predecessor, or very close to in line with the historical averages.

In fact, the chart gets even more interesting if you include major updates delivered in formats other than service packs. The expanded chart below paints an interesting picture:

Windows Service Packs and major updates, 1996-2009, revised

Sometimes these not-quite-a-service-pack updates take the form of “update rollups.” The most noteworthy recent example was Update Rollup 1 for Windows XP, which was released on October 15, 2003, about midway between XP SP1 and SP2. It wasn’t a service pack, but it did offer an easy way to install a year’s worth of security patches on Windows XP without having to download them via Windows Update. (And no, there was no Update Rollup 2 for Windows XP, although Microsoft has used that term for several cumulative updates to the Media Center and Internet Explorer components of XP and Vista.)

Update rollups are also the preferred way to end a product’s lifecycle. After Windows NT4 SP6 and Windows 2000 SP4, Microsoft released update rollups containing 18 to 24 months worth of security updates and patches for each OS. It was the last big update release for both operating systems. When I compare that pattern to that of XP SP3, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that SP3 is the last big update we will ever see for XP.

Beginning with Windows Vista, Microsoft is using Windows Update to deliver reliability, compatibility, and performance fixes in addition to security patches. For Windows users, this is a new development. Windows XP users never got this type of update, but Vista users were treated to a steady stream of them:

Updates 938194 and 938979 were both released on August 7, 2007 and made major improvements in reliability, performance, and compatibility. In fact, the Microsoft Knowledge Base article for the latter update implies that it is the heart of Vista SP1 and recommends installing it “if for some reason you cannot upgrade to the full Windows Vista Service Pack 1.”

This stream of non-security updates has continued at regular intervals:

That’s an update roughly every quarter, and is a major reason why those who actually use Vista have noted dramatic improvements even after Service Pack 1.

In addition, Microsoft has released application compatibility updates on a similar schedule:

A new Application Compatibility Update for Windows Vista is due this month.

By contrast, Microsoft released only three application compatibility updates for Windows XP, all within roughly six months of XP’s October 2001 release.

Around Windows XP Service Pack 2, Microsoft’s development and release cycle fell apart. Up until that point, customers could count on getting major update packages at least every year. After SP2, XP was basically ignored except for critical security updates, and Vista’s struggles are well documented.

But as I’ve discovered in researching this post, Microsoft seems to have hit a predictable update cycle for Windows desktop releases, with quarterly fixes delivered via Windows Update and rolled up into annual service packs. The crisis-driven development processes that defined Windows from 2003 until Vista’s release in early 2007 appear to be over, replaced by a much more disciplined management. Corporate customers in particular have every right to be skeptical, but if Microsoft can maintain this newfound commitment to shipping on schedule, it's good news for Windows customers in all markets.

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • Oh great

    Microsoft = Good because it sticks to some schedule.

    Yes. Next blog please.
    • A schedule of fooling the dumb to pay for alpha software

      so that they can use the money against competition rather than innovate _anything_ ...

      It's great to see that the mainstream press are finally getting a clue.
      • Phew! Thank you thought you might have lost it...I win - thanks! nt

    • oh great

      Mac = Good because the commercials say so

      No. Next blog please.
  • Tech press #1 rule

    With Vista we'll always take a negative slant in our reporting. Why bother to be a journalist when you can jump on the old band wagon.
    Nothing new, just the same ol, same ol.
    It was interesting to talk to some of my relative over Thanksgiving. Several had finally bought a machine with Vista, and every single one of them remarked that they liked it, and couldn't understand what the fuss was about.
    I did hear one story about from one cousin's parent where having a hell of a time with their imac. It had been in the shop 3 times with various problems, over the last year. In California we have a lemon law I think you get a new one after 3 major repairs, I don't know about Arizona though.
    • Finaly Someone who get it

      it's Fashonable to bash MS for reason at all. The facts are (in fact) realy simple:
      1. Vista is great OS and a this point in time is perfect for every who actually want to use their computer
      2. Macs are just generic x86 hardware in a shiny plastic case (now proven to emit toxic fumes) that are sold to unsuspecting peoples or those with a very low IQ who think that because they paid a 50% premium they got better quality.

      Like it or not Vista and/or Windows 7 is/are the main stream os. Linux? maybe i a decade or 2, MacOS? NEVER, as FreeBSD (infected with a layer of DRM) with a badly design candy interface does not even amont to a OS.
    • Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic

      There are two streams of interest in Windows (or any OS for that matter): home/hobby/gaming and business. While I'm more than happy for all the Thanksgiving relatives who are happy with Vista and need to be since they have no good (or at least easy) Windows options the point that's missed is the difference between what works as a consumer desktop and what business requires.

      For business to expend the considerable amount of money and time upgrading an OS there MUST be clearly identifible payback for the expense. The majority of businesses have determined rightfully that there is no benefit with Vista that offsets the costs. The really sad thing is that from all the reviews thus far of the Windows 7 beta (alpha or whatever it is) the efforts to provide features that would entice the corporate user are still not there. It frankly seems to be Vista R2 with really relevant goodies like that utterly useless, space wasting banner interface for paint and notepad (NOTEPAD!!!).

      It would appear that MS will be discharging a round into their other figurative foot. The time is passed in many business environments when MS can basically dictate how people will work. With business it's a buyer's market and if business is not getting payback on investment there will be no buy. Period.

      With respect to the general premise of the article, it's much ado about nothing. Most really don't care that much about release schedules. Having a solid product regardless of the release date is a much more germine consideration.
      • Spot on

        I work with one of the big 4 accounting firms. In Australia we have some 4,000 laptops and another couple of thousand desktops. What operating system do we use - XP. Globally we have 120,000 employees. Operating system - XP. When I asked IT if we would be moving to Vista I received a resounding no. It's not that they haven't looked at it - they have. The reason is it is just not business oriented enough. Great for home - and many of the IT guys have it on their home computers - but not business.

        Now an IT department as big as ours globally should know what it is doing. But is you are still sceptical check out the web sites of laptop manufacturers - not their home use models but their serious business models. Despite strong efforts by Microsoft to stop the practice, most still offer XP as a option. Why? Because that is what business needs and wants.

        So for all its good features and no matter how much advocates talk it up, Vista is still a home use OS.
        • Vista is unquestionably ready for the enterprise

          every bit as much as xp and more. 500 new GP objects to start with, then proper over the shoulder elevation.

          Your IT department might not be migrating existing systems to Vista, but they're incompetent if they're still downgrading new boxes.
          • Don't judge a book without reading it

            It's a bit presumptive to say any IT department is incompetent without knowing the rationale behind decisions.

            As to "downgrading new boxes" all new machines are delivered direct from the manufacturer with the standard corporate image for the particular country preinstalled. There is no software to upload or "downgrade". They run straight out of the box once IT have assigned the machine to a user given it a default password and registered in on the system.
          • Agreed, of course.

            Although I'd argue that the model you're talking about is closer to not upgrading than actively downgrading.

            There's an agreement in place to delivery specific hardware and specific images anytime, which isn't much different than buying all the machines you'll need for the next year or two and storing them onsite.

            Buying a machine with Vista and downgrading to XP is more a sign of very crappy vertical market software and/or very lazy IT people, particularly when as you have stated well there are better options available.
      • Theres actually more then two streams

        "For business to expend the considerable amount of money and time upgrading an OS there MUST be clearly identifible payback for the expense. The majority of businesses have determined rightfully that there is no benefit with Vista that offsets the costs."

        I think you will find that businesses are and have been taking up Vista all be it Vista Home Edition, that's because most business environments require low level clients with high level servers, a prime example would be the council where they would need 100 desktops and 2 to 4 servers. So why would they buy Vista Ultimate when their staff will not be using a fraction of its features, hence the adoption of Vista Home as the client for business.

        Specialist companies that require workstations as opposed to desktops tend to be departmentalized with 5 workstations and 1 server per department i.e publishing, editing and graphic design departments, these kinds of companies may look at Vista Ultimate for the extra features/power compared to Vista Home.

        Vista ultimate should be recommended for workstation clients/specialist systems which makes up a small percentage of computer sales and Vista Home should be recommended for desktop clients where large numbers of clients to server ratios are required making for a larger percentage of computer sales.

        And guess what? sales indicators reflect just that.
        • That makes no sense though..

          I can understand the general concept of why you wouldn't put Vista Ultimate on everyone's desktop in a business environment. There's just no real need.

          But Vista HOME? If you've got servers, and you give a fig about security, it would make a HECK of a lot more sense to install Vista BUSINESS - which, like Ulitmate - allows you to connect via Active Directory to your servers.

          Vista Home Basic and Home Premium don't let you do that...
          • You may not understand but the sales speak for themselves

            There are many network scenarios where centralization is not an option or key requirement, a closer look at WAN networks, decentralization and data protection through isolation may give you an idea of what i'm talking about.

            There are also simple ways around the problem you described and that's what IT personnel get paid for i.e include a Vista Ultimate client that connects to the AD by joining the domain, now have that Vista Ultimate client act like a server (NAT/ROUTING/DNS/DHCP) for a workgroup of Vista Home clients. You could also include hardware routers as opposed to software routers and so on.
          • Vista home in a business

            is growing for extremely small businesses with one or two clients, not for medium and large businesses with AD.
          • Look its another one

            Read the blogs before commenting and i won't have to call you an idiot, and if you come with the same argument about vista home not connecting to AD when i've already put forward a simple solution from the many available then you are an idiot. I didn't know WAN networks where managed by SME's.
          • re: look it's another one.

            I've read the blogs, you've contrived this "fact" from parts of blogs and news sites, but there's not a stitch of truth to your claims.

            Vista home is gaining ground in small businesses with less than 10 clients. Your "simple" solution is a horrific kludge and no admin would consider it in anything but a basement "business".

            what does Wide Area Networks have to do with SME's or the version of Vista one is running?
    • re: Tech press #1 rule

      Mark, as I recall, the press was pretty negative on XP too.

      For XP they constantly noted how businesses were sticking with NT or 2000 and how small XP's corporate marketshare was (and it was well under 50% 3 years ago)

      And then a funny thing happened....businesses moved to XP and suddenly XP was the greatest OS ever.

      For Vista, it's the same thing all over again.

      It doesn't matter that adoption rates are higher (for both corporate customers and consumers), vista is a failure....and it will continue to be a failure, right up to the point where it becomes the Windows OS
      • Exactly. After SPs are released to fix it.

        Win95: rev B or C
        Win98: SE
        WinXP: SP2

        Until these updates were released, the OS was kind of buggy. Vista needs these new non-critical updates, and it is what MS should have been doing all along. I think it is a definite improvement. Now they just need to stop doing initial buggy releases (hint: quit changing the driver model for no readily apparent reason, for one).

        Kudos to MS for an obvious improvement in their update model.
  • surely on track

    It's just about 3 years too late and the competition is up there in front