Windows updates galore: The latest on SPs, FPs and UEs

The Windows client team has been pushing out service packs (SPs), a new feature pack (FP) and Ultimate Extra add-ons for Vista over the past few days -- to varying degrees of customer satisfaction.

The Windows client team has been pushing out service packs (SPs), a new feature pack (FP) and Ultimate Extra add-ons for Vista over the past few days -- to varying degrees of customer satisfaction.

On April 23, Microsoft began rolling out via its Automatic Update mechanism SP1 for Windows Vista. According to a posting on the Windows Vista Team Blog by Windows Client Communications Team Director Chris Flores :

"Over the next few months Microsoft will automatically distribute Windows Vista SP1 to PCs that have automatic updates turned on and running English, French, German, Spanish, or Japanese via Windows Update. Automatic distribution will only occur, according to user settings, on PCs ready for SP1. After Windows Vista SP1 downloads, WU will let you know that 'new updates are available. You'll then be asked to make a few clicks before the installation of SP1 will begin."

Just a reminder for folks having trouble with their Vista SP1 updates (of which there seem to be a considerable number, based on Microsoft Forum postings, at least): Microsoft is offering free phone support for Vista through March 2009.

In Windows XP SP3 land, Microsoft headed off some angry Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and TechNet subscribers by reversing its rollout delivery-schedule plans for the latest set of fixes and updates to Windows XP. MSDN and TechNet subscribers can get the XP SP3 bits as of April 23, Microsoft officials said today.

When Microsoft announced XP SP3 availability on April 21, the company angered a number of its paying subscription customers with its plan to make SP3 available to Windows Update users before MSDN and TechNet ones. Microsoft officials attributed the plan to hold back availability to "bandwidth." According to a statement from a company spokesperson I received on April 22:

"We are currently planning to make Windows XP SP3 available to MSDN/TechNet subscribers for download beginning on May 2, 2008. While this is after its availability on Windows Update, we have made pre-release candidates of Windows XP SP3 (and Windows Vista SP1) available to developers and IT professionals throughout the development process for testing. To meet high customer demand for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), we have optimized available bandwidth and prioritized MSDN/ TechNet delivery channels for Windows Vista SP1 downloads in all Windows languages. Once we have satisfied this demand, we will roll out Windows XP SP3 via MSDN/ TechNet. As an added benefit, MSDN subscribers will receive an integrated build of Windows XP SP3 in addition to the standalone XP SP3 release that all customers receive via Windows Update."

On April 23, a Microsoft reversed its plan. A spokesperson sent me the following update:

"I wanted to let you know that Windows XP SP3 bits are now available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.  Over the last few days, Microsoft worked with its bandwidth and system partners to come up with creative solutions to make Windows XP SP3 available to subscribers as soon as possible."

The Windows client team also delivered this week to Vista Ultimate users a few more of the the long-promised Ultimate Extra add-ons that Microsoft is providing exclusively to users of its most pricey Vista SKU. Some liked them; some didn't.

Finally, one last bit of Windows pack information. Microsoft quietly released a "feature pack" for Vista last week. (The distinction between an SP and FP seems to be that SPs are bug fixes and FPs are more new features. But the line between the two isn't a firm one.) I asked Microsoft a couple of follow-up questions about the Vista FP:

Q: Is this wireless support feature pack the first feature pack for Windows Vista to be distributed via WU?

A: The Windows Vista feature pack for wireless is a Hardware Refresh Package (HRP). This is the first HRP for Windows Vista SP1, though Microsoft previously released a storage-specific HRP in 2007 for Windows XP. This is not distributed via Windows Update and is available directly from OEMs on new systems

Windows Vista feature packs in general are not distributed via WU (Windows Update) or MU (Microsoft Update) and are available directly from OEMs on new systems or IHV redistribution on value-add CDs.

Q: Does Microsoft plan to leverage the feature pack vehicle more frequently in the future to distribute updates?

A: Similar to past HRP's, Microsoft may use this mechanism when there is a need for this type of support and release. We do not have a set schedule or cadence.

Anyone out there  having any noteable problems (or successes) with any of these FPs or SPs for Vista and XP?