What's the deal with Vista Service Pack 1?

I thought I understood Microsoft's plan of record for Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 1 ... until I heard CEO Steve Ballmer's Vista business-launch keynote on November 30, that is.

I thought I understood Microsoft’s plan of record for Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 1 ... until I heard CEO Steve Ballmer’s Vista business-launch keynote on November 30, that is.

In response to a press question about SP1, Ballmer told attendees of the “New Day for Business” Vista/Office 2007 launch in New York that Microsoft has “no current schedule” for SP1, because the company is awaiting customer feedback before crafting it.

Hmm. That’s not what I’ve heard. In fact, it’s not what other Microsoft officials have said on the record. Senior Vice President of Server Tools Bob Muglia recently confirmed for eWEEK that Microsoft’s goal is to release Vista SP1 at the same time as Windows Server Longhorn, which is currently slated to ship in the latter half of 2007.

OK, so which is it? I put Brad Goldberg, general manager of Windows client, on the spot. And Goldberg backed Ballmer’s “we have no schedule” claims.

“In the past, SP1 is where we came out with tools and guidance,” so that’s why so many businesses tended to wait until SP1 before deploying Windows in the past, Goldberg said. But these days, “SP1 is not a relevant (deployment) milestone,” Goldberg told me.

With Windows, going forward, “we are trying to plan in a more predictable way,” Goldberg said. “Windows Update now gives us a vehicle to get things out that normally would have been in a service pack.”

(Why do I fear that all this “predictable planning” is going to mean less transparency and fewer publicly articulated ship-target dates under the new Steven Sinofsky Windows regime? Sigh.)

I’ve talked to more than a few business customers leading up to the Vista business launch. Many still say they are unwilling to deploy any Microsoft operating system before SP1 ships.

Understandably, Microsoft doesn’t want to talk about bugs and fixes on the day it is celebrating the arrival of its new Vista and Office products. But it seems like providing a target date -- even if subject to change -- for SP1 would give business customers some useful, timely information that might help them solidify their Vista deployment plans.