The shroud of secrecy is lifted: Vista SP1 beta due in two weeks

After months of all but denying the existence of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, Microsoft has finally gone public with a timetable and feature set for the awaited update. A beta for 10,000-plus testers starts in two weeks. The final SP1 ship target is Q1 2008.

After almost a year of hemming and hawing over how and when to acknowledge publicly its plans for Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 1, Microsoft finally released on August 29 its officially-approved schedule and feature set for the awaited update.

Vista SP1 will go to about 10,000 to 15,000 selected beta testers by mid-September, officials said. The SP1 beta build will be made available to these testers for download form the Microsoft Connect site. A broader public beta of SP1 is likely around the time Microsoft delivers a release-candidate test build of the service pack, officials said, while declining to provide a timeframe for that build. The final "gold" release of SP1 is now slated for some time in Q1 2008.

Microsoft told selected testers earlier this summer it planned to release the final Vista SP1 in November 2007, around the same time as Windows Server 2008 went to manufacturing. Microsoft also announced on August 29 that it has delayed the release to manufacturing of Windows Server 2008 until Q1 2008.

The promised feature set for Vista SP1 is the same as the one Microsoft outlined earlier this summer when it first told selected testers details about is plans for the service pack. General Manager of Windows Product Management Shanen Boettcher said Microsoft plans to include in SP1 "all previously released updates" that the company has rolled out since Vista was released to manufacturing in November 2006. All of the performance and reliability fixes that Microsoft made available this summer via two mega Vista hotfix packs will be part of SP1.

Microsoft is refreshing "a significant number" (in the company's words) of Vista components in some way with this service pack, but does not believe application compatibility will be adversely affected as a result, Boettcher said.

On the short list of Vista SP1 features:

  • Support for Direct 3D 10.1
  • support for Secure Digital (SD) Advanced Direct Memory Access (DMA) to improve transfer performance and decrease CPU utilization
  • Performance tweaks lessening the amount of time it takes to copy files, shut down and resume Vista machines
  • Support for ExFat, the Windows file format for flash memory storage and other consumer devices
  • Improvements to BitLocker Drive Encryption to allow not just encryption of the whole Vista volume, but also locally created data volumes
  • The ability to boot Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) on an x64 machine
  • Improvements to battery life by reducing CPU utilization be "not redrawing the screen as frequently, on certain computers"
  • Improvements to Internet Explorer 7 performance by reducing CPU utilization and speeding JavaScript parsing

While the final size of Vista SP1 is roughly what Microsoft told testers it was likely to be (45 MB planned, vs. 50 MB actual), this is the size of the SP as it will be delivered via Windows Update and Windows Software Update Services (WSUS) only. Standalone SP1 will be 1 GB for x86 systems. (See my ZDNet blogging colleague Ed Bott's post for more on this point.)

Vista SP1 has been in private beta testing with key OEM and Technology Adoption Program (TAP) testers for "a few months," said Boettcher. Several of the privately distributed pre-beta builds have leaked over the summer, in spite of Microsoft's non-disclosure policies surrounding all information pertaining to SP1.

Going forward -- beyond Q1 2008 when it delivers Vista SP1 and the final Windows Server 2008 code -- Microsoft is looking to more closely sync up the updates it is providing for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Under a new and evolving "service model," Microsoft plans to provide customers with constant, regular fixes and updates to Windows client and server.

The goal is to deliver one set of updates that will be able to be applied simultaneously to both client and server. This will be possible because Vista and Windows Server 2008 are built atop the same core kernel, Boettcher said.How and if this new "servicing" model will impact the way Microsoft delivers future service packs for Vista and Windows Server 2008 is yet to be finalized, Boettcher said.

Microsoft still is telling customers not to wait for Vista SP1, and to proceed with testing and upgrades now. After hearing about what's coming in SP1, I can't imagine anyone planning to move to Vista not waiting for SP1.